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The Making of Medicine

Determining the Scope of COVID-19 in Virginia

We’re teaming up with the Virginia Department of Health and other hospitals around the state to better assess how many Virginians have been infected with COVID-19.

To get a sense of how many people may have had the virus without getting tested (or, in some cases, showing symptoms), we’re going to test the blood of 5,000 patients for COVID-19 antibodies. That will help VDH, and Virginia’s hospitals, better prepare for what the future may hold.

The blood will be collected from willing participants during regular doctor visits. We’ll then test the samples here at UVA. Eric Houpt, MD, the chief of our Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, is the project leader.

We’ve had significant interest from people interested in volunteering, but, unfortunately, that’s not allowed. A lot of folks want to get tested because they think they’ve had COVID-19 and want to see if that’s the case; but if the testing fills up with people who think they’ve had it, that will skew the results. It’s important that the testing reflect the state as a whole, rather than a self-selecting subset of the population.

“The confirmed COVID case counts in Virginia, or in any state, are an underestimate because testing has been incomplete and there are many cases with mild or no symptoms at all,” Dr. Houpt said. “The question this project will answer is how much are we underestimating infection, how far are we from herd immunity and are we especially missing cases in certain groups or regions.”

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