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Testing Health Care Workforce for COVID-19 Antibodies

While most people sheltered at home during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone could. From hospital workers to EMTs, firefighters and police officers, Orange County’s first responders continually put patient care ahead of their personal health and safety.

Today, these brave men and women continue to give – this time by expanding our collective knowledge about COVID-19.

Combining generous philanthropic support and a grant from the Orange County Health Care Agency, Hoag’s Center for Research and Education has embarked on a project to test all of Hoag’s health care staff as well as community first responders including fire and police personnel for the presence of antibodies that would indicate previous infection by the COVID-19 virus.

Hoag’s antibody test is the same as that selected by the Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic. It is 100% specific – meaning that if positive, one can be certain that antibodies from previous infection with COVID-19 are present and the patient has recovered.

Recent studies have shown that antibodies resulting from COVID-19 infection can protect against reinfection for some time. In fact, this principle is behind use of convalescent plasma for treating active COVID-19 illness. Use of such plasma is offered to currently ill patients under a separate research trial, with initial reports showing it lowers mortality.

Until a vaccine is developed, detecting antibodies in recovered patients could help identify convalescent plasma donors who can save lives by their donation.

Also, in the health care workforce, if antibodies were produced by a previous infection, the prioritization and need of such individuals for vaccination with limited vaccine availability may be lessened initially.

“We are honored to partner with the Orange County Health Care Agency to better understand how the disease spreads within our community and to help protect against a future wave,” said Philip Robinson, M.D., director of infection prevention at Hoag.

Dr. Robinson also noted that to date, more than 3,000 Hoag staff have been tested. Fewer than 1% have demonstrated the presence of antibodies. This is testimony to the safety of the Hoag workplace, and the disciplined nature of our educated workforce in preventing becoming infected overall.

“This is a testament to Hoag’s safety protocols and to the dedication and discipline of our entire team,” Dr. Robinson said.

The general community prevalence of antibodies has been tested in selected trials in California, both Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties, and is approximately 4%-6% as of June. Testing is being conducted in the general population of Orange County, and in Hoag’s limited experience of such testing outside of the workforce shows that OC prevalence at the very least matches that rate, the antibody presence adding to the body’s innate immunity present in varying degrees amongst individuals.

This study is one of the first of its kind, and its results should be of significant interest to health policy and operations experts.

“Our strongest weapon in the battle against this and any disease is knowledge,” Dr. Robinson said. “It is telling that our frontline workers – our doctors, nurses, police and firefighters – are the ones who will lead the charge to arm ourselves with the information we need.”

See the link below to see the study report itself:

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.20.20158329v1