The Maryland Depart of Health announced Thursday that it will collaborate with 13 of the state’s hospitals on a coronavirus antibody study to attempt to determine how many of the state’s residents have had the virus.
Antibody, or serology, tests determine whether an individual has antibodies for the disease in their blood, meaning he or she has previously had COVID-19, but does not determine whether the person has an active infection.
In the study’s initial phase, more than 6,000 people will be tested. Almost 100,000 Marylanders have tested positive for the coronavirus, but it’s possible the count of residents who have actually been infected is much higher, given low rates of testing early in the pandemic and people with asymptomatic cases who never got a test.
“Understanding the level and pattern of unrecognized community transmissions of COVID-19 is crucial to curb transmission and prevent a future wave of the pandemic,” MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall said in a statement. “Establishing a baseline of those who have tested positive will help us better understand how it spreads so we can fight it more effectively.”
The 13 hospitals participating in the study are: UPMC Western Maryland, Carroll Hospital, University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton, Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Frederick Memorial Hospital, Anne Arundel Medical Center, MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Health System, Howard County General Hospital, Holy Cross Hospital, Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center, University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center and MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center.
The Maryland Department of Health laboratory will also process blood samples from patients’ routine emergency department visits at those hospitals. Results will then be reported to the hospitals.
A design team that includes the University of Maryland School of Medicine, John Hopkins University and the John Hopkins Emergency Department created a plan for hospitals to collected existing unused blood samples for the study.
“Emergency departments are a window into communities and can reveal the state of public health,” Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s acting deputy secretary of public health, said in a statement. “They are one of the most important resources to provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 among all patients.”