Gabriela Bhaskar / The New York Times

Antibody tests for COVID-19 are being administered throughout New York, including Tompkins County.

April 29, 2020

N.Y. State Administering Random COVID-19 Antibody Tests in Tompkins County

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The New York State Department of Health has been administering antibody tests in the Ithaca area, the Tompkins County Health Department said on Tuesday.

The announcement follows reports last week that found far more New Yorkers may have been previously infected with COVID-19 than initially thought — a random sample of 3,000 residents revealed that 14 percent tested positive for antibodies.

Since then, New York has doubled down on its efforts to test individuals for antibodies. The state had surveyed 7,500 individuals as of April 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) said in his Monday briefing.

Albany officials have banked on antibody testing as a way to gauge when to ‘reopen’ the state. If the virus is more widespread than previously believed, they say, more people may be able to safely reenter the workforce. It would also mean that coronavirus’ actual mortality rate could be significantly lower.

The Tompkins County Health Department said it had only been made aware of the ongoing antibody testing in the county on Tuesday.

State officials refrained from announcing the locations of antibody testing in Tompkins County, as doing so “might disrupt the accuracy of the survey,” Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 told The Sun.

In New York’s Southern Tier region, where Tompkins County is located, the state’s antibody testing suggested a past infection rate of 2.4 percent, according to Cuomo. In New York City and Long Island, the rates were 24.7 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively.

The high number of sampled individuals with antibodies supports what New York health experts had long believed — that communal transmission in the state likely began as early as mid-February, well before the state’s first officially reported case on March 1.

But the using antibody tests to determine immunity has been called into question by top health officials at the World Health Organization, who said that “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”

However, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker said that New York’s antibody test could reliably determine immunity. Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66 similarly said that previous exposure would limit risk of reinfection, even floating the idea of “immunity cards” for those who have recovered from the coronavirus.

At Weill Cornell, researchers are attempting to clarify the timeline of coronavirus’ onset in New York by analyzing the remains of roughly 20 individuals who died in February and March to see if COVID-19 may have been the cause of death.

In Ithaca, testing eligibility for COVID-19 was expanded on Monday to include essential workers, symptomatic individuals and those who have recently interacted with someone who tested positive for the virus.