Officials say a new antibody test will help them analyze the spread of COVID-19—and potential immunity to the disease.
The test could provide more data for schools to consider. Though most public schools remain in online mode, recent data is giving districts confidence to move forward with plans to reopen classrooms in the coming weeks.
Peoria Unified School District is leading he way, with a planned Sept. 28 restart after reopening classrooms for kindergarten through second grade last week.
“If the positive trend in our data continues, we will invite the remainder of our students to return on Sept. 28,” PUSD Superintendent Jason W. Reynolds said.
According to a Glendale Union High School District post, “Due to the current data ... GUHSD will begin the hybrid learning model starting Monday, Oct. 19.”
Similarly, Glendale Elementary School District posted: “Based on (recommended) health metrics, and as long as the data continues to be favorable, we project we will be able to reopen our schools on Monday, Oct. 19.”
This week, Maricopa County Public Health is finalizing a new “serosurvey.” The random test includes Peoria ZIP code 85382 and Glendale 85304 and as well as Avondale 85323 and Tolleson 85037.
“Our goal is to get a random sample of Maricopa County,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the county’s medical director for Disease Control.
She stressed that 30 communities around the county were selected randomly, with a goal of seven participants in each community.
Residents received a door hanger to notify them of their eligibility for participation. Those who volunteer to participate will do a blood draw—either in a small tent set up at their homes or at a lab, as they prefer.
The Mayo Clinic will test the blood for COVID-19 antibodies.
“It will show presence of antibodies to COVID-19, which indicates you had or have COVID-19,” Sunenshine said.
Participants will receive their test results by phone within two weeks.
Meanwhile, the county will analyze the data to get a “big-picture” view of the spread of coronavirus.
The presence of antibodies is key, as many who have COVID-19 may not know it, due to mild symptoms or none at all.
“Especially early on in the pandemic, not everyone who was infected was tested. We also know that around 40% of people infected with COVID-19 never develop symptoms and may not be included in our case counts,” said Marcy Flanagan, executive director for MCDPH.
“The goal of this is for us to understand a county-wide perspective of the portion of the population with antibodies, which tells us how likely they are to have some immunity and how many people we would have to vaccinate,” Sunenshine said.
“That information is helpful to know when we can relax social distancing and mask requirements,” she noted.
Asked how long she thinks antibodies will provide immunity to COVID-19, Sunenshine hedged. “I would not feel comfortable answering that,” she said, noting the disease is still in its early stages.
“But we know that literature supports that most people who have had COVID-19 do develop antibodies and have some protection. ... We’re all pretty confident that protection lasts at least three months.”
According to the Maricopa County COVID-19 data tracker, the county has been collecting data on the coronavirus for eight months, with nearly 140,000 positive test results.
In addition to the general site, in the last month the county launched a School Reopening Dashboard and Guidance site. Both reflect positive trends, with results showing the spread of coronavirus slowing from previous months.
The Peoria Times asked Sunenshine how she interprets recent data.
“Overall, the trends we’re seeing in the county is that we peaked and our percentage positive rates are down probably about the lowest we think we will see them—and we have now plateaued,” she answered.
“... We need to keep up social distancing, wearing masks and staying home when we’re sick in order to keep at low levels.”
The Times also asked Sunenshine her expectations for community spread once students return to classrooms.
“Generally, it takes at least two weeks before we start to see an impact on numbers from a change in scenario, whether that’s opening schools for in-person learning, interventions to reduce spread, or anything else,” she said.
“We have been working with schools regularly to offer guidance on how to reduce risk to students and staff when classrooms reopen. If there are cases in schools, we will work closely with the school to ensure they have guidance to stop COVID-19 spread.”