Coronavirus Immunity Testing Must Be a Priority
In early March, I began receiving patient emails from a former doctor of mine. It took me a second to realize why I was even on his mailing list, being that he had left the health clinic I go to a few years back. I quickly remembered that he’s now the owner of the preventative-healthcare clinic and gym where my son works out; I had used my email address when enrolling my boy months earlier.
Anyway, in the first email, the good doctor began sharing his thoughts on the coronavirus. He explained that he viewed it as a serious threat, and that it was becoming a world-wide epidemic. And he didn’t mince words in his description of how contagious it was and what it could do to the human body. It wasn’t a panicked message, by any means... just a candid and informed one, which I appreciated.
He also spoke of how his clinic would have a limited number of coronavirus tests available through a private lab to patients/clients (if their symptoms met the established criteria). He elaborated on the tests (which the lab ended up running out of pretty quickly) in a subsequent email, but it was this particular sentence that I found particularly intriguing:
“Additionally, very soon we will have tests available…that will tell you if you have already acquired and recovered from COVID-19. Results for this test will be immediate. These tests will become more important in the weeks ahead and might be useful to allow one to put fears to rest.”
“Important” struck me as perhaps even an understatement, not just because of what such a test could mean on a grand scale for our economic recovery, but also on a much smaller scale for my own family.
You see, there’s at least a fair chance that the coronavirus has already made it through my family. I'm not joking.
Weeks before those emails (back in mid-February), my kids and I flew out to Anaheim, California for a few days, where my wife was wrapping up a business trip. The company she works for is international, and she met that week with colleagues from all over the world, including South Korea and other Asian countries.
At the time, President Trump had only placed travel restrictions on China. In regard to infected Americans, our biggest public concern was for travelers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship (that had yet to even dock).
America was not on good footing to deal with the growing health crisis, and a lot of that had to do with China’s cover-up of the seriousness of the situation. We now know that China was aware of the coronavirus as early as November of last year, which means that potentially infected citizens (and citizens of neighboring countries) had months to travel to other parts of the world before serious lock-downs were imposed.
In other words, the highly contagious coronavirus had assuredly made it here to the United States long before a lot of us believed it did. Who knows how widely it spread during that time, back before we were quarantining or even really testing people? Who knows how many times it was mistaken for the flu or a just a regular cold?
Which brings me back to my family…
We’d gotten a three-day pass to Disneyland and California Adventure. The first two days were great fun, but at the very end of the second day, my wife — out of nowhere — started feeling quite sick: a low-grade fever, some chills, aches and pains, and fatigue that lasted her for the next few days. It was strange how suddenly it had come on. She could barely even get out of bed the next day, and urged us to go to the park without her while she rested in our hotel room.
Though the fever and chills went away, she didn’t feel back to normal until a few days after we’d arrived back in Colorado. That's when I started feeling a bit weird myself over the next day or two, and both of our kids missed at least a day of school with what we thought were colds. Maybe that’s all they were; we don't know.
What I do know is that my wife’s jaw dropped a few weeks later when she heard Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s description of how they were feeling before testing positive for COVID-19. It was as if they were describing her exact condition back in California. And I’ve heard a number of similar stories from others since then — stories about mysterious and sudden flu-like symptoms that occurred a week or two before alarms started sounding here in the U.S.
The timeline sure makes you wonder how many Americans have unknowingly recovered from the coronavirus (those who had relatively mild symptoms), and also how many earlier hospitalizations and deaths were falsely attributed to causes other than the coronavirus.
This seems to highlight just how important the test my old doctor described (but has had trouble ordering) could be as our country works to recover from this crisis. Because if someone has recovered from the coronavirus, the prevailing medical belief is that they are immune from getting it again (at least in its current form), and thus can’t spread it to others. People that fall into this category should be able to re-enter society and return safely to the workforce to help jump-start our economy.
In fact, Germany is already getting out in front of this initiative. As reported by The Telegraph, the German government is preparing to have researchers test hundreds of thousands of citizens’ antibodies to determine whether or not those people have beat the coronavirus. Those who have will be issued “immunity certificates” and given the okay to return to their normal lives and occupations.
Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who’s become a respected source of information and ideas for dealing with the coronavirus, also highlighted the importance of this initiative in his outline for reopening our nation.
Employing immunity testing, identification, and tracking — on a significant scale — should be a high priority for the United States right now, as we continue to social distance and care for the infected. It would hopefully eliminate a lot of the guess-work (and perhaps even overkill) currently associated with our mitigation efforts. Those who've come out on the other side of this virus (even if they didn't know it) could be key in helping us bounce back from it.
Let’s hope our leaders are paying attention to what’s going on in Germany, and taking steps to emulate it. We may have a lot more people available to do some heavy lifting on the recovery than we realize. But let's make sure first.