150,000+ Virginians may have had COVID-19, according to UVA Health research

150,000+ Virginians may have had COVID-19, according to UVA Health research
UVA Health research suggests nearly twice as many people have been exposed to COVID-19 than have tested positive for the virus. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The real number of Virginians infected with coronavirus could be at least twice as high as the number that have tested positive, according to new research being conducted by University of Virginia Health and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

UVA Health is conducting a study with blood taken from Virginians statewide, looking for COVID-19 antibodies. The antibodies would only be present in the blood of people that have been infected with the virus. Researchers say that would give the state a more complete picture of how widespread the infection is in the commonwealth. More than 4,000 people have been screened so far.

“Only about two, to two-and-a-half percent of individuals are positive,” UVA Health Epidemiologist Elizabeth Rogawsky McQuade said. “So what that means is that the vast majority of Virginians are still susceptible to the virus.”

The numbers also reveal that some at-risk populations have been significantly impacted. According to the preliminary results, Hispanic communities have been hit the hardest.

“About 14% of Hispanic individuals are positive, compared to only two, two-and-a-half percent overall,” Rogawsky McQuade said. “So there are certainly subgroups of our population that are highly vulnerable at higher risk.”

The preliminary findings suggest that at least 150,000 Virginians have been infected with COVID-19 at some point. That would represent nearly twice as many positive cases than the VDH currently reports. That’s in part because many of the people infected could show mild symptoms, or in some cases no symptoms at all.

“Many of the people who were tested positive actually did not report an illness that would be consistent with COVID, so it does look like there are many asymptomatic infections,” Rogawsky McQuade explained.

The findings of the study will help VDH determine subgroups where additional testing is needed, including increasing testing of asymptomatic individuals. It also means that much of the population has not been exposed, and is still at risk.

“You may have heard of the term herd immunity, so when you know a large proportion of the population is exposed, and we can expect that the case count will go down,” Rogawsky McQuade explained. “One main takeaway is certainly that we’re very far away from that.”

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