It is not out of the question that millions can go back to work relatively soon, safely, without endangering anyone, and without spreading the pandemic.
How? How is not the question as much as who. The people who could go back to work safely are those who have already had Covid-19. These are people who have antibodies against the disease. This make them immune from a second bout at least for a few months, as long the virus does not mutate. How many people in the US have this immunity? That’s the problem. There could be millions, but we do not know at this time.
The data is very incomplete but does suggest there could be very large numbers with antibodies for the disease. People have been tested for the disease when they show symptoms or have had contact with someone who had a confirmed Covid-19 infection. In New York as of April 1, out of 205,186 tested, there were 83,712 who tested positive for the disease. What we don’t know is how many of those who did not test positive nonetheless had antibodies to Covid-19.
We also know that roughly 18% of people who have confirmed Covid-19 infections are asymptomatic. It is further said that 80% of people who get the virus come down with relatively mild symptoms. The people who suffer serious effects from the disease are usually, but not always, older and they often have additional underlying health issues. They are the tip of the iceberg. Most people do not get sick enough to seek medical care. The point as others have stressed is that we do not know the denominator.
So we desperately need to have an antibody test. Fortunately, such tests are available.
This blood test can tell us how widespread coronavirus really is
How widespread is the new coronavirus? How many people get it and don't even know? What is the actual death rate? Those…
From this perspective it is critical that we begin mass testing for antibodies. It is more than possible such testing will uncover a few million people with antibodies. We won’t know for sure until the testing is done.
Here is the key point: the people with Covid-19 antibodies can return to work and go back to school. Instead of having all these people staying at home for no reason, we can focus the social isolation measures on those potentially vulnerable to the disease. To make this happen, we need to find practical ways to not only test but also certify that a person does in fact have antibodies to Covid-19. This should include an easy way for individuals to publicly demonstrate their Covid-19 antibody status. Perhaps there could be a separate photo ID license on a lanyard or a medallion that could be magnetically pinned on clothing. We would want options compatible with current security scanning equipment used in office buildings and factories. That would make it relatively practical for offices and factories to have workers return safely. The returning workers would be those immune to Covid-19 as certified by an antibody test credential.
It should be a high priority to get everybody tested for antibodies and to develop procedures that allow those with antibodies for the virus to return to work. Antibody testing has promise. This could be the way we start to get large numbers of people back to work.