Initial antibody test results suggest 2.7 million New York infections

If confirmed, that's 10 times the official number of infected New Yorkers.

Initial antibody test results suggest 2.7 million New York infections
Image source: Getty Images
  • It may be that many more unsymptomatic New Yorkers have encountered COVID-19 and fought it off.
  • If this is true, the death rate may be lower than currently believed.
  • Andrew Cuomo presented these early findings with the caveat that the study hasn't been completed or published yet.

We don't really know how many people have or have not been infected by coronavirus. Insufficient testing has left us largely flying blind, though there's been a general suspicion among experts that the disease's incidence is substantially underreported in what data there is.

On April 22, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described the preliminary findings of a new series of tests his state is conducting. The tests seek to identify asymptomatic individuals who are carrying antibodies that indicate they've fought off COVID-19 or are currently doing so. So far — and there's much more testing to be done — 13.9% of people tested positive for antibodies. That would suggest some 2.7 million New Yorkers have encountered the coronavirus. That's 10 times the official tally. In New York City, the results are even higher — 21.2% of people tested have the antibodies.

This could mean that the coronavirus has asymptomatically moved through a larger chunk of the population than previously known, and that the death rate may thus be much less than previously thought.

Cuomo’s and others' comments on the report

Image source: State of New York

Cuomo discussed the report's initial findings at a press conference. Since the study is ongoing, and the report itself not yet made available, his comments are the best information we have so far.

Said Cuomo, "We're going to continue this testing on a rolling basis. We'll have a larger and larger sample. But I want to see snapshots of what is happening with that rate. Is it going up? Is it flat? Is it going down? And [the antibody study] can really give us data to make decisions."

Not everyone is convinced of the study's value. NYC Health, for example, has raised warnings regarding the potential for false positives and negatives, and cites the remaining "void" in our knowledge of COVID-19.

The tests were developed by New York State's Wadsworth Center lab, which asserts that it's 93-100% effective at differentiating the current coronavirus from previous infections. However, the lab has not publicly rated its efficiency, or sensitivity, at delivering accurate positives.

On top of that, it's always a good idea to resist drawing conclusions too quickly from any single study, and especially from one whose findings are so preliminary. Speaking with NBC News, Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage cautions, "There's a risk of really serious misinterpretation here." Nonetheless, "the most basic conclusion — that quite a large number of people may have been infected and are not turning up in the official case counts — that's extremely plausible and something we have been suspecting all along."

Image source: State of New York

Blood tests were administered to 3,000 people across the state — in 40 locations and 19 counties — as they shopped at grocery and big-box stores. There's therefore a certain degree of pre-selection in the sample so far. For example, people too ill or otherwise infirm to be out and about are not included in its results. This is one of the report's limitations and a reason to wait before jumping to too many conclusions regarding its data.

"These are people who were out and about shopping," noted Cuomo. "They were not people who were in their homes. They were not people who were isolated. They were not people who were quarantined."

The results so far also reflect the disproportionate impact of coronavirus of people of color. Statewide, 22.8% of multiracial individuals tested positive for the antibody, as well as 22% of both African-Americans and Latinos.

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists: Gamma-ray jets exceed the speed of light

Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.

An artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
  • The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
  • The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Keep reading Show less

​'The time is now' for cryptocurrencies, PayPal CEO says

Is Bitcoin akin to 'digital gold'?

Technology & Innovation
  • In October, PayPal announced that it would begin allowing users to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies.
  • Other major fintech companies—Square, Fidelity, SoFi—have also recently begun investing heavily in cryptocurrencies.
  • While prices are volatile, many investors believe cryptocurrencies are a relatively safe bet because blockchain technology will prove itself over the long term.
Keep reading Show less

"Clean meat" approved for sale in Singapore

Singapore has approved the sale of a lab-grown meat product in an effort to secure its food supplies against disease and climate change.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Big Think
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Singapore has become the first country to approve the sale of a lab-grown meat product.
  • Eat Just, the company behind the product, will have a small-scale commercial launch of its chicken bites.
  • So-called "clean meats" may reduce our reliance on livestock farming, which kills billions of animals worldwide every year.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast