Randomized coronavirus and antibody testing in Louisville will determine ‘true extent’ of virus, could be extended to rest of Ky.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A project aimed at finding out the true extent of the coronavirus in Louisville has moved into its second phase after receiving a $1.5 million donation from the James Graham Brown Foundation, with hopes that it will be replicated across the state and nation, and even the world.

“The project is a national model, and we hope the rest of the country will follow in the coming months,” Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the University of Louisville Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, said at a news conference Monday, June 8.

The Co-Immunity Project is a collaboration of the Envirome Institute and the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, along with Louisville’s three major health systems, Baptist HealthNorton Healthcare and UofL Health.

Bhatnagar said invitations bearing a U of L seal have been sent to 13,000 households in all parts of Louisville asking them to participate in free testing for both the coronavirus and its antibodies. Participants will be selected based on age, race, sex, background and location to create a sample that matches Jefferson County’s demographics.

The first phase of the project involved testing nearly 1,500 health care workers for the virus and its antibodies. Tests of the public began with 2,400 people. They will be followed by random tests every eight weeks, with about 22,000 being tested when the project is finished. The first round will be completed by June 20, with the results to be released 10 to 12 days later.

“It is our hope that through this type of regular, representative [testing] is that we will be able to calibrate a response with greater precision in risk group, in timing and in location,” he said. “But to succeed, it will depend on the participation of our community.”

Initial results from statewide testing in Indiana released in May found that the number of infections was about 11 times higher than had been reported at the time of the tests, and that about 45% of those who tested positive had no symptoms, Marcus Green reports for WDRB.

Bhatnagar explained that while testing capacity has greatly expanded across the state, these results are not representative of the entire population, because they only include people who choose to be tested and this type of testing does “not tell us about the true extent of the virus in our community.”

“We need not only expanded testing, but smart and consistent testing,” said Bhatnagar “We need to test a random sample of people who are representative of the entire community. Much like a well-designed political poll, we have to be careful to ensure that the  test results from a group of people mirror that of the larger population. Only this can give us a real picture of who has the virus, and who has had the virus.”

Bhatnagar said the data from this study will best represent an urban setting, and that he hopes to eventually extend this project to the rest of the state: “It would be somewhat precarious to extrapolate the results from urban areas to rural areas, so I think if this model could be followed in the entire state of Kentucky, then we would in the future like to include both urban and rural locations.”

The news release says scientists from around the world can use the data to study effectiveness of antibody therapies and to identify types of individuals who are better able to fight off the virus.