What Maryland’s statewide COVID-19 antibody study entails and hopes to reveal

Thirteen hospitals throughout Maryland are testing patient blood samples to see whether they have COVID-19 antibodies. One goal for the study is to help gain insight into how the virus spreads.

It should also help build upon a body of knowledge plagued by countless unknowns.

“We’ re still trying to figure out how many people develop antibodies, how much antibody they make, what kind of antibody they make, how long those antibodies stay around and whether or not those antibodies are protective,” said executive director of pathology for MedStar Medical Group Dr. Moira Larsen.

Larsen has been working with the state on the study that includes MedStar Southern Maryland in Prince George’s County, which has been hard-hit by the virus, and a hospital north of Baltimore, MedStar Franklin Square.

Study samples will come from patients who have their blood drawn during routine care in hospital emergency departments. The only information that will follow the sample is where it was collected, the person’s age and whether they had previously tested positive for COVID-19.

As part of the de-identification, the patients are not going to get individual results,” Larsen said. “They should not feel any discomfort about not getting these results because it should not affect their behavior at all” because antibodies do not necessarily suggest immunity.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

“We all still need to stay safe,” Larsen said.

Hospitals participating in the study reflect locations that experienced high, moderate and low prevalence of disease during COVID-19’s initial surge in March, April and into May.

“Emergency departments are a window into communities and can reveal the state of public health. They are one of the most important resources to provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 among all patients,” Acting Maryland Deputy Secretary of Public Health Dr. Jinlene Chan said in a news release

“Results of the study will help state health officials refine patient surge needs and respond to additional waves of COVID-19 should they occur,” Dennis R. Schrader, state Department of Health chief operating officer and Medicaid director, said in a statement.

The study is expected to conclude in four to six weeks. The state plans to post the results online.

“All of the studies that we’re doing related to antibodies will help us get there,” Larsen said of eventually being able to answer unknowns. “It’s an incremental process.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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