Harris County Public Health will survey residents for COVID-19 antibodies in an effort to determine how many people already have been infected with the novel coronavirus, the department said.
Beginning Sunday, health workers will visit randomly selected homes and ask residents to answer questions and provide blood samples.
Humans produce antibodies, proteins in the immune system, to fight infections from viruses and other pathogens. It can take days or weeks for antibodies to develop following exposure to the coronavirus, and it remains unclear how long they remain in an individual’s blood.
The Houston region has recorded 236,704 COVID-19 cases since the virus arrived here in March, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis, but health officials estimate this is only a fraction of the total number of infections.
Health officials hope the antibody tests will help the county determine how COVID-19 spread in certain communities, how transmission rates differ between neighborhoods, how effective containment strategies have been and how many residents contracted the virus but never exhibited symptoms.
“This survey is a very important way that local residents can help public health workers fight this virus,” Harris County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Umair A. Shah said in a statement. “By finding out how widespread the illness is, we can develop strategies that will help us control the spread of COVID-19.”
Participation in the program is voluntary, and only selected households are eligible. Teams of health workers wearing yellow vests will make their rounds from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The point of this survey is to find the people who have COVID but didn’t know it and never got tested for it. This will help us know what the real level of infection is in the county, since the official stats are almost certainly too low. It may also help identify previously unknown hot spots, in the way that wastewater testing can do.
And speaking of official statistics:
On 11 of 16 days in November, COVID hospitalizations have increased in #Houston region. Today 1,273, highest since before Labor Day.
Police cars revolving light July peak was 3,964, but look how close in pace we are to June’s surge that led us to that point.
— Zach Despart (@zachdespart) 02:27 PM – 16 November 2020
Please wear your mask and stay socially distant, y’all. There’s only way one way out of this until that vaccine is ready.