• Thomas Parker

New Ohio antibody study shows coronavirus presence in January

Updated: May 29, 2020

New antibody testing in Ohio indicates that the first infections of the novel coronavirus in Ohio may have occurred as early as January 7, according to Ohio Department of Health data released Sunday.

Six people reported feeling sick in January, though few details are available about their condition. A state health official did not say whether those patients had traveled, were connected to another case, or were infected through community spread.

News of early-January infections are noteworthy due to the fact that it was previously believed that the first coronavirus infections in the United States came later in January. The individuals in Ohio were identified using antibody tests and had COVID-19 symptoms and are considered "probable" cases by the Ohio Department of Health.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had previously announced the state's first test-confirmed cases of the virus on March 9, but the state did not receive working test kits until March 5.

The new data may indicate that more asymptomatic infections occurred across the U.S. than previously thought, meaning the virus may not be as deadly as feared.

However, new antibody tests are being performed continuously, and the test are becoming more reliable with additional time and data. The Santa Clara antibody study that found an antibody prevalence of between 2.5% and 4.2% in the population was adjusted to a prevalence of 2.8%, on the lower end of researchers' initial estimates. The raw prevalence found was 1.5%.

While the study was criticized for aggressive weighting of the virus prevalence, the adjusted figure still results in an under-reporting of infections by a factor of 54.

Even taking the raw prevalence of 1.5% results in an under-reporting of infections by a factor of 30 and translates to a fatality rate of 0.33%--identical to the fatality rate calculated following antibody testing in Gangelt, Germany.

A fatality rate of 0.33% is about three times as deadly as the flu, but not near the pessimistic academic predictions of a 1-2% death rate, which could have resulted in the deaths of millions of Americans.

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