Results of the first phase of the Hideaway COVID-19 Antibody Testing Program are in, with data revealing that the number of infected Hideaway residents could be up to five times higher than indicated by the PCR virus tests reported to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.
While confirmed COVID-19 cases remain steady at 28, according to NET Health, results of the seroprevalence survey – in which seven of the 293 volunteers tested positive for antibodies – indicate that between 37 and 151 people in Hideaway have been infected with the virus at some point during the pandemic.
“What is happening is a fair number of people who get infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, which means they have no symptoms,” Dr. Sue Royappa, Hideaway’s chief health officer, said. “So if they don’t have symptoms, most people won’t get themselves tested. We end up missing cases that would otherwise be counted. What a study like ours does is to capture those people who might not know they ever had COVID-19.”
And, in the first phase of the antibody testing program, that’s exactly what happened, Royappa said.
“Almost half our group were not even aware they had COVID-19,” Royappa said. “So we’re catching more people this way.”
Four men and three women, whose ages range between 50 and 80, tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
Four of those who had COVID-19 antibodies had already tested positive for the virus in July, and their symptoms ranged in severity. One had no symptoms, one had mild cold symptoms, and the remaining two had flu-like symptoms that did not require hospitalization.
Three of those who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies did not know they had the virus until they received results of the sero-survey.
Additionally, three of the seven participants had a spouse in the household who tested negative for antibodies at the same time.
“We hear of cases when a whole bunch of people get infected after being exposed to someone for less than an hour, but here we have people living together that still did not get the infection from their spouse,” Royappa said. “That tells us how the virus behaves so differently in different people. Viral spread depends not only on how good one person is at transmitting (COVID-19), but also on how vulnerable the other person is in getting infected when exposed.”
Royappa has requested to report the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which currently lists 10 regions across the United States that have reported sero-survey data, in order to better help researchers understand virus behavior in different regions.
“One of the biggest challenges that we’ve had right since the very beginning is the lack of data from different types of communities,” Royappa said. “There’s not much data on what’s going on in the smaller communities. Is the spread of the virus different there?”
The same group of volunteers will be retested on Dec. 12 and 13 in order to see how the virus spread has changed and whether those who currently have antibodies have maintained them over a longer period of time, Royappa said.
She noted that the relatively low prevalence rates in Hideaway serve testament to the “prudent behavior” of residents, who she says have done “an excellent job” of wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands often in order to mitigate the spread of the virus as they continue to enjoy safe socialization on golf courses, at parks and in public spaces like the library.
“I think we really have been good about balancing caution while still going around and doing the things that need to be done in order to maintain a sense of wellbeing and community,” Royappa said. “It’s not like we just shut down. A lot of activities are still going on, but it’s clearly going on very safely, because our numbers show that.”
More information on the Hideaway COVID-19 Antibody Testing Program can be found at sero-survey.org.