PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A study of COVID-19 in Rhode Island found antibodies in 2.2% of the population, the R.I. Department of Health announced Friday.
Dr. Philip Chan, a consultant medical director for the Health Department’s Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease, and EMS, said the preliminary results also found a higher prevalence of the antibodies in Hispanic and black Rhode Islanders.
The antibody study was conducted between May 5 and May 22, after 5,000 random Rhode Island households were sent invitations to participate. Chan said 10% to 15% of people responded, and were tested at Stop & Shop locations.
The goal of the study was to try and gauge the prevalence of COVID-19 in the state, since some infected people can be asymptomatic and therefore never get tested using the traditional diagnostic test.
It’s not yet known whether people who previously had COVID-19 can get it again.
“We don’t know if having antibodies is protective against COVID-19,” Chan said. “This is a very active area of research.”
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The prevalence of antibodies among Hispanic and Latino Rhode Islanders was 8.2%, compared with 5.2% for black or African-American people, Chan said. The prevalence among white residents was 0.9%.
“This really again highlights the disparities among high-density communities,” Chan said. He said the Health Department is working to do more to provide access to testing and care for minority communities.
It was not immediately clear how many of the people who tested positive for the antibodies never had any symptoms of the disease. Chan said the question was asked during tests, but the responses were not immediately made available.
Chan said the study used the Abbott Architect test, even though the state had originally purchased 20,000 units of a different test called the SD Biosensor.
“We felt like for this study specifically that the Abbott test was the best and we wanted to get the most accurate test,” Chan said.
Friday afternoon, Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said the state returned the 20,000 SD Biosensor tests for a full refund, and would use the Abbott architect test moving forward instead.
Wendelken said they made the shift because the Abbott test’s high sensitivity. According to the FDA website, the Abbott Architect test has been granted an Emergency Use Authorization while the SD Biosensor test has not.
But there’s no word yet on when members of the public might be able to get antibody testing outside of a research study. Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said Friday it was not currently recommended, as it could create a false sense of security that a person is protected from getting the virus.