The novel coronavirus has infected roughly 4.1 percent of the population in California’s Los Angeles County, suggesting the region’s outbreak is far more widespread than previously thought, between 28 and 55 times higher than the number of confirmed cases, new research shows, echoing the findings of a similar study elsewhere in the state.
However, the new data, if accurate, also indicates that the coronavirus death rate in L.A. County, the most populous in the country, is lower than initially predicted.
Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) and the L.A. Department of Public Health gleaned the data from antibody testing of about 863 county residents. Antibodies are an indication that an individual’s immune system has responded to a past infection.
On Monday, CNBC reported:
USC and the health department released preliminary study results that found that roughly 4.1% of the county’s adult population has antibodies to the coronavirus, estimating that between 221,000 adults to 442,000 adults in the county have had the infection.
This new estimate is 28 to 55 times higher than the 7,994 confirmed cases of Covid-19 [coronavirus illness] reported to the county in early April. The number of coronavirus-related deaths in the county has now surpassed 600, according to the Department of Public Health. The data, if correct, would mean that the county’s fatality rate is lower than originally thought.
If accurate, the top end of the estimated number of L.A. County residents who may have contracted the virus would amount to more than half (56 percent) of the total number of cases in the United States, while the lower range would equal to about 30 percent of the overall number in America.
Stanford University researchers who looked at California’s Santa Clara County, much less populated than its L.A. counterpart, reached similar conclusions, finding that the coronavirus outbreak may be more widespread but less deadly than originally estimated.
The Stanford University researchers found that between 2.5 percent and 4.2 percent of county residents had antibodies to the coronavirus by early April, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday, adding:
Though the county had reported roughly 1,000 cases in early April, the Stanford researchers estimate the actual number was between 48,000 and 81,000, or 50 to 85 times greater.
Based on their results, the Stanford researchers estimated the mortality rate in Santa Clara County to be between 0.12% and 0.2%. By comparison, the average death rate of the seasonal flu is 0.1%.
The findings of both the L.A. and Santa Clara studies echo the results of other assessments.
Earlier this month, the Economist magazine cited a new study that found the fatal and highly contagious novel coronavirus has spread faster but is less deadly than official data imply.
The coronavirus mortality rate could be as low as 0.1 percent, “similar to that of flu,” the researchers cited by the Economist found, noting that the faster the disease spreads and hits its peak, the fewer people will die.
In early March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, predicted a much higher death rate for the United States, saying it could reach two percent.
CNBC quoted Dr. Paul Simon, the chief science officer at L.A. County Department of Public Health and co-lead on the study, as saying in a statement:
Though the results indicate a lower risk of death among those with infection than was previously thought, the number of Covid-related deaths each day continues to mount, highlighting the need for continued vigorous prevention and control efforts.
USC Professor Dr. Neeraj Sood, who led the L.A. County study, added that the new findings suggest:
…many more people in L.A. County could potentially be infected and as those number of infections rise, so will the number of deaths, the number of hospitalizations and the number of ICU [Intensive Care Unit] admissions.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief, told Breitbart News early this month that his agency is working with private industry leaders to bring more antibody testing to the American public.
Last Friday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told reporters that the FDA had approved three antibody tests, adding that they are currently being used for first responders and health care workers to see how they performed in the field.
“We are taking that very seriously because you never want to tell someone they have an antibody and potential immunity when they don’t,” she said.
Asked about L.A. County study’s findings, Dr. Birx warned reporters on Monday, “These [antibodies] tests are not 100 percent sensitive or specific,” adding:
If you have one percent of your population infected and you have a test that’s only 99 percent specific that means that when you find a positive, 50 percent of the time will be a real positive, and 50 percent it won’t be. And that’s why we’re really asking people to start testing in among the first responders and the health care workers who may have had the greatest exposures because that’s where the tests will be most reliable and then when we have the luxury we can go out to broader and broader communities.
Global health officials have also reportedly cautioned that antibody testing may not be able to accurately determine if a person has any immunity to the coronavirus.