New California antibody study could point to possible herd immunity to COVID-19

Researchers at Stanford Medicine are working to find out what proportion of Californians have already had COVID-19. The new study could help policymakers make more informed decisions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The team tested 3,200 people at three Bay Area locations on Saturday using an antibody test for COVID-19 and expect to release results in the coming weeks. The data could help to prove another theory, one that believes COVID-19 arrived undetected in California much earlier than previously thought.

According to Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow with Stanford’s Hoover Institute, the hypothesis that COVID-19 first started spreading in California in the fall of 2019 is one explanation for the state’s lower than expected case numbers.

Hanson is not affiliated with the study.

As of Tuesday, the state had 374 reported COVID-19 fatalities in a state of 40 million people, compared to New York which has seen 14 times as many fatalities and has a population half that of California. Social distancing could be playing a role but New York’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 22, three days after California implemented its order.

“Something is going on that we haven’t quite found out yet,” said Hanson.

Hanson said he thinks it is possible COVID-19 has been spreading among Californians since the fall when doctors reported an early flu season in the state. During that same time, travel between China and America was unfettered. Some of those visitors even arriving on direct flights from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

“When you add it all up it would be naïve to think that California did not have some exposure,” said Hanson.

Hanson said through all of this the Chinese government has been disingenuous about the timing of the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

“They originally said it was in early January, then it got backdated to December and then early December and now they are saying as early as November 17,” said Hanson.

If Californians were exposed earlier than the rest of the country to COVID-19 the state may have had a chance to build up some herd immunity to the disease. We won’t know if that is the case until results from the Stanford Medicine study come back.

Herd immunity in the idea that a large percentage of a population has already contracted the virus which would slow the rate at which it spread to others.

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