WATCH: Testing for antibodies and what it means

One of the most important outstanding questions about coronavirus is how many of us had it but never knew it. The answer will reveal for the first time how deadly Covid-19 really is. And it will help us evaluate the drastic measures taken to close down much of society. Today, we get the inside track on one of the earliest studies now underway to get at the information.

Sharyl: You said you haven’t really taken a day off since mid-March?

Jay Bhattacharya: No, not since I guess the shelter in place order and the couple of days before that. I basically, I think this is the most important thing I’m ever going to work on.

Sharyl: Jay Bhattacharya is a doctor, economist, and professor of medicine at Stanford university in California. While much of the world was clamoring for tests to see who was sick with coronavirus, he began wondering how many people had already had silent cases and recovered.

Sharyl: Can you just tell me in simple terms, once there was a coronavirus outbreak, how that became something that you started to research about?

Bhattacharya: I figured, okay, if they’re just checking for people with the virus, they’re going to be missing people who had the infection and were, were cured or you know, just they cleared the virus like as if it were a cold. I mean, not, not everybody goes to the ICU or dies from it. And what I noticed was most of the discussions around that ignored that fact, that people who have that, they have evidence of that in their blood. There’s, there’s, there’s antibodies you could use that might protect you from it. To me that was the first order question. As soon as I saw, started seeing the data, I thought: Okay, how many people are there like this?

Sharyl: To answer that question, he put together a landmark study in three short weeks. All he needed were thousands of antibody tests from the only country making them at the time: China.

Two and a half weeks ago, he and his team got the tests. They began collecting blood from thousands of Californians at grocery stores in Santa Clara.

Sharyl: Can you describe just briefly what the parameters of the test are? What, what exactly are you doing?

Bhattacharya: Basically it’s a, it’s a fingerprick test. You do a little finger prick and then volunteer folks in the labs here offered to like actually run the test for us.

The results could produce the first true coronavirus death rate: the number who have died among all who had coronavirus, even those who had no symptoms. Until now, many have presented the public with much higher, inaccurate death rates calculated by deaths among only sick patients who tested positive.

Sharyl: So it looks like the curves they were showing us, that said stuff like, “zero cases in March,” well there probably were cases, we just hadn’t tested them?

Bhattacharya: We are making incredibly consequential policy decisions on the basis of almost no relevant evidence. We don’t know how far the disease has spread, we don’t actually know when it first started in the country. So what we’ve done is we’ve shut essentially the entire economy down on the basis of these models that are populated with numbers that are not supported by data, by hard data, I mean of course it is supported by some data, but the data involves some guesses that I am not comfortable making.

Sharyl: Are you a coronavirus doubter? Are you somebody who is trying to deny the coronavirus?

Bhattacharya: No, I’m not a doubter. It’s a very serious illness and it’s a, obviously, as I said, the most important epidemiological event in my lifetime. I, I don’t think I’m a doubter. The question is, what is it? What I want to know is what is it really? What is this epidemic about? Like what are the parameters of it? That’s what I’ve been focused on.

Sharyl: Dr. Bhattacharya says soon, accurate, individual antibody tests given by your doctors will help determine who can go back to work, with minimal risk of getting infected again or spreading coronavirus to others. But his study is looking at a bigger picture, digging into widely publicized predictions he questioned early on.

Bhattacharya: So in the back of my head I have this idea that there’s going to be the great depression, this great global depression, and we’ve induced it. And who will it hurt? I was born in India. It’s gonna hurt poor Indians. It’s going to hurt poor Africans. It’s going to hurt the poor in the United States. So if I have that in the back of my head, I kind of have to speak out. Right? Is this the right policy? Is it worth it? Well, it may be worth it if the disease models are right and there’s 10 tens of millions of people are going to die for millions and millions of people are going to die from the coronavirus. Yeah, maybe it’s worth it. But if that’s not right, then we, we have, I think the certainty of huge numbers of people their lives irreparably damaged by this policy. That I think we have to consider.

Santa Clara was first, but Dr. Bhattacharya is also doing antibody studies in Los Angeles and planning them in multiple other U.S. cities. Meantime, dozens of companies are seeking FDA approval for antibody tests to be given to individual Americans in part to find out who’s safe to go back to work. Some of these tests are expected to be widely available any day.

Order “Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism” by Sharyl Attkisson today at Harper Collins, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, IndieBound, Bookshop!
Fight improper government surveillance. Support Attkisson v. DOJ and FBI over the government computer intrusions of Attkisson’s work while she was a CBS News investigative correspondent. Visit the Attkisson Fourth Amendment Litigation Fund. Click here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 thoughts on “WATCH: Testing for antibodies and what it means”

  1. I took part in the study. A couple corrections to above, although not critical to the main discussion: the tests were done in Santa Clara county, not in the city of Santa Clara. For example, I took the test in San Jose. Also the tests weren’t at grocery stores, although I did see that reported elsewhere. They were done at two parks and one church parking lot.

  2. Dear Sharyl,
    Please look at the original study which is posted on Medrxiv, a preprint server. The study is titled, “COVID-19 Antibody Seroprevalence in Santa Clara County, California,” there are numerous issues related to this study. These include poor statistical analysis meaning this is really not a random sample, and making that argument is very weak,, extremely weak. Based on the date when it was performed early April, tests and testing were scarce and the offering was placed on social media for those in the area. Since there were extreme shortages to testing , People wanting tests at the time or suspected they were infected, clearly sought out the opportunity to be tested using this test. The kit used in this study is actually produced in China, and resold by a company in Minnesota. Premier Biotech, which sells this test from Hangzhou Biotest biotech, please check this out. This test is meant solely for research purposes and not approved to be used on humans, so there are purported problems with this test regarding sensitivity, and specificity. The authors also claimed that the standard that they used involved 3 different estimates: (i) the test manufacturer’s data (this in itself is an issue), (ii) a sample of 37 positive and 30 negative controls tested (this is not a strong sample to test against if the test has sensitivity, and specificity) or at Stanford (this is their in house testing not sure about the quality of their in house testing although they make strong claims regarding this test), and (iii) a combination of both. If you want to see a critical analysis of this manuscript look here:

    I also recommend that you look at this critique written by Dr. Andrew Gelman at Columbia University. He carefully highlights many of the weaknesses tied to the predictions based upon the kits and the study itself.

    Also, the authors have written a couple of early opinion pieces in the WSJ, one of the authors is a venture capitalist with solid scientific qualifications, but this paper/ and the opinion pieces or commentaries read more like a self fulling prophecies put forth by the authors following the release of the preprint and at a much earlier date in the WSJ with basically no data whatsoever. I find this to be lame on the editorial side of the WSJ. I am not bad mouthing the authors but there is a clear conflict of interest somewhere that needs to be divulged on some level, especially in your interviews and in the WSJ, etc.! I feel that Dr. Bhattacharya is seriously concerned about the epidemic and the crisis this includes the impact on people, the hospitals, and the economy. However, I greatly disagree with the how the study was performed and the quality of the analysis, but worse yet the conclusions that they drew form their study. Most of all I really don’t like to see something that is on a preprint server get some much press because it purports to argue for the restlessness that we all feel in this crisis. He mentions India his home country and the poor there, which we ill be affected with a huge impact on the Indian economy, However, India, much the rest of the third world without lock downs or non pharmaceutical interventions, will be devastated its only the beginning. at this date The U.S, has 792,938 confirmed cases and 42,518 deaths, just imagine India with a population of 1.3 billion, not good at all- and I am not considering the poor or the crowded cities, or the lack of available testing! At this stage India has only tested just over 400,000 people, for that population that size its a spit in the ocean, not to mention how the hospitals are going to deal with it there. We struggled here and we have a completely different level of available healthcare, albeit ill prepared for this crisis. When the time comes, how on earth are they going to reintroduce people back into society in India. Look China clearly doesn’t have a handle on this and who knows how many infections, symptomatic and asymptomatic actually are there, Honestly they have to have more than the US for sure!!!! Especially now that northern part of China is blowing up with cases as well, obviously unreported cases. They clearly don’t have a handle on it! I believe in the lockdown that we have at present along with the use of masks to reduce spreading the virus, but everyone has to have a mask. Until there is a treatment or vaccine (that works and is safe), we really can’t open up the US. The standard for a pandemic is::
    1. Halt all inbound infections (this mean flights and ports of entry) isolation now!

    2. Everyone wear face masks when out and about.

    3. Aggressive testing, make it easy and fast! –

    4. Rigorous contact tracing-to find all exposed people when someone tests positive to track exposure and potential infections.

    5. Pay for tests – needed for compliance, Pay for treatment- needed for compliance, Pay for quarantine (quarantine all exposed contacts for at least 14 days)- needed for compliance.

    6. Treat, collect Data – and Share it in the US and with the world!!! – This would create clear, consistent and transparent information!!!

    9. Gear up for a huge impact on all hospitals!!

    WSJ opinion articles:
    Please note that Dr. Eran Bendavid is the first author and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya is the Senior author with Dr. Andrew Bogan as a middle author of the preprint. Personally I think the preprint is obscured by the authors opinions on the corona virus pandemic.

    March 24th:Dr, Eran Bendavid and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya “Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?,”

    April 17th, Dr. Andrew Bogan “New Data Suggest the Coronavirus Isn’t as Deadly as We Thought” : -Why is one of the authors writing the opinion piece about his own paper?? This is a terrible conflict of interest and not professional at all!!

Scroll to Top