Harvard Professor: Antibody Testing Is Not Key To Reopening Economy

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the state would begin random, widespread antibody testing of New Yorkers – which he says is key to reopening the economy. 

But, there are questions about the quality of antibody tests and whether it can speed up state’s reopening.

Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, tells WCBS 880’s Lynda Lopez that New York needs to be careful when conducting these tests. 

“It is a bit of the Wild West and what that means is that there are a lot of different tests out there. Some of them are excellent and some of them are terrible,” Dr. Jha said. “What we really need to do is make sure that we are only using high quality tests and weeding out the bad quality tests.”

There has been some criticism that the federal government is allowing some tests to be used in the country without scrutiny, and Dr. Jha says it’s important to make sure the tests “are reliable before we start using them.” 

He says that while there are concerns about the quality of the tests, the reliable ones can, in fact, help the state to reopen eventually. 

“The high quality tests will really assess whether you have antibodies in your blood to the virus and if you do, it should be mean, if the tests is reliable, it should mean that you’ve been previously exposed to the virus,” he explains. 

Dr. Jha adds: “It’s really useful for people like me who are trying to understand how widespread the infections are. What we don’t know, and this is what people need to understand, is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you have antibodies that you are truly immune from getting the infection again. We need to sort that out before we give people that false assurance.”

Governors like Gov. Cuomo are counting on these tests to become widespread quickly to reopen the economy. However, it might not be a probability. 

Dr. Jhan says he believes the tests will be widespread, but should not be the “primary source” for figuring out when to open the country again. 

“The right way to think about opening up the economy is we want to make sure their cases are declining, that we have the ability to identify people who are actively infected,” he said.

He stressed that it’s important to ensure people will not catch the virus again during their daily lives – and that requires “good old-fashioned testing for the virus.” 

“We keep hearing from the White House, we have enough tests, even though everybody agrees we do not have anywhere near enough tests,” Dr. Jha said. “I think if the White House got serious and worked in partnership with governors, we could get a lot more testing for the virus. That’s what we need in order to make sure people feel safe going back out and going to work and going to restaurant and other places.”

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