Sonoma County using antibody tests to help determine scope of coronavirus outbreak

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Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat

After three months into the local fight against the new coronavirus, it still remains unclear how many Sonoma County residents actually have been infected by the contagion since only a sliver of the county’s nearly 500,000 people have been tested.

In fact, just 32,000 people, or 6% of the population, know for sure if they’ve had or still have the virus because they tested positive. Since the county mounted an aggressive, multifacted testing regimen beginning in April, more and more cases have emerged but the area’s total infection rate continues to hover at only 2% of those tested.

With the COVID-19 outbreak under control at least for now, county public health officials are turning their attention to trying to discern how many residents were infected by the virus, yet didn’t likely know it because their bodies fought it off. To get a clearer picture of the magnitude of the virus spread, county health officials last week started antibody testing approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These tests detect often unknown previous coronavirus infections, and the results will help guide the next stage of public health response to the ongoing battle against the highly contagious pathogen in the community. And the test results could possibly point to the need for more public health precautions, said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer.

“If (for example) 5% of our community is already infected, we’d tell people we didn’t know that this extra huge number of people got infected so be careful, wear your facial coverings, really observe the mitigation measures,” Mase said in an interview this week.

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