About 1,000 asymptomatic Boston residents will be invited to participate in randomized testing for COVID-19 antibodies, the city announced Sunday morning.
A random sample of residents living in East Boston and Roslindale, as well as some parts of Dorchester, will be selected beginning Sunday, according to Mayor Marty Walsh, who announced the city's joint partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital.
“The more we can expand our testing, the more we can learn how to use our medical resources more efficiently, and how we need to focus our current efforts to contain the virus,” Walsh said in a statement.
Tests will be conducted for both the COVID-19 virus and COVID-19 antibodies, officials said. Testing for the virus is done with a nose swab and antibody testing will be conducted by blood drawn through a finger prick.
While virus tests determine whether you currently have the infection, the latter tests show whether your blood has antibodies present, which appear when the body has responded to an infection such as COVID-19.
"We are at war with COVID-19, and overcoming this viral enemy demands knowledge, strategy and intelligence gathering," said Dr. Peter L. Slavin, president of Mass. General.
"A growing body of evidence suggests that many people who have been infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, but we don't yet know how prevalent the disease is in our city, in our communities and in our society."
There are still serious questions over these kinds of blood tests, however.
"There’s sort of mixed results coming out,” Boston University professor Dr. David Hamer said.
We still have a lot to learn about coronavirus antibodies, according to Dr. Hamer.
"There’s questions about what we don’t know about immunity to the virus, like how, if you’ve had a mild infection, does that lead to protective immunity?” he said.
Mayor Walsh says the new round of testing is critical because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as a quarter of infected patients never show any symptoms and those people could end up infecting others.
"We need to understand more about immunity and duration of immunity,” Dr. Hamer said.
The city of Boston started reaching out to people Sunday. Those contacted to participate in the study are not required to participate. Residents who opt in will not be charged, nor have any of their personal information shared, officials said.
The results should be back within a week.