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'We don't know how many people have been infected with coronavirus, and that number is very important for public health reasons.'

COURTESY PHOTO: CDC - A team in the genomics lab at Providence Health Care Services in Oregon is working on a COVID-19 antibody test. Shown here: CDC labs handle other coronavirus tests.When the first case of community-acquired coronavirus was discovered in Oregon, infectious disease labs across the state started developing tests to identify people sick with coronavirus. When it became clear that only a limited number of tests would be provided by the federal government, the need became even more urgent.

While they were working on testing, a team in the genomics lab at Providence Health Care Services in Oregon also started developing one that could identify people who had gotten sick and then recovered: an antibody test, also called a serology test.

Dr. Carlo Bifulco, a pathologist and the medical director at Providence's genomics lab, says they knew they'd need one eventually.

"We don't know how many people have been infected with coronavirus," Bifulco says, "and that number is very important for public health reasons."

Antibody testing can answer public health researchers' questions about the new coronavirus. It can help estimate how many people in a population have been infected, and it can help figure out how many cases were asymptomatic or went undiagnosed. Getting a good estimate of the total number of COVID-19 cases is vital for epidemiologists and disease modelers who are trying to figure out how many total cases different areas might see, and how much they need to prepare.

This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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