Today, County Executive Calvin Ball announced Howard County’s comprehensive strategy to better understand the scope of COVID-19 spread among the population through serology testing. Photos of the event can be found here. Video can be found here. Ball shared a multi-pronged approach to introducing serology testing:
· Participating in the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) serology study for first responders, including police, fire and rescue services, corrections, and sheriff personnel.
· Serology testing for all County employees
· Partnership with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) to develop and implement a serology testing plan for the Howard County population
“Serology or antibody testing can provide a glimpse into the extent of COVID-19 infections in the recent-past and are critical to understanding the true prevalence of the virus in communities like ours,” said Ball. “Our bold serology strategy is three-pronged, first by testing our first responders, then extending that opportunity to all County employees, and ultimately developing a plan to offer serology tests for all our residents. We are one of few jurisdictions in the nation working towards a wide-spread population study, which will be especially useful to compare antibodies at the population level once vaccines are widely available. Our approach has always been data-driven and people-informed, and we will continue to search for innovative and efficient ways to mitigate the spread of this virus and ensure our community is safe and healthy.”
While diagnostic tests measure presence of COVID-19 typically in individuals who may be currently symptomatic, serology or antibody tests measure immune factors present after infection. Serology testing can be especially useful given evidence that many individuals who acquire the virus have mild or no symptoms, and so may not seek a COVID-19 diagnostic test or be accounted for through a healthcare encounter.
To date, more than 500 Howard County first responders were tested as part of the MDH serology study. This specific group was selected based on the high risk for exposure to COVID-19 due to their work environment and job duties. All Howard County employees will also now have the opportunity to get a serology test through any Quest Lab in Maryland.
“The rate for positive antibodies amongst our emergency responders in Howard County helps affirm that the policies and procedures we have implemented to protect our personnel and those we serve are working,” said Fire Chief William Anuszewski. “I want to remind everyone, now more than ever, of the importance of following public health recommendations such as social distancing, hand hygiene and the wearing of face coverings to help control the spread COVID-19 and keep others safe.”
“We were glad to have the opportunity to join the fire department in offering voluntary antibody testing to our police officers,” said Police Chief Lisa Myers. “Many of our officers, who often respond to medical calls, participated in the testing and helped us confirm that our PPE efforts have been working. With a low positivity rate, we know our officers are taking the right precautions to protect themselves and the people we serve.”
“The safety and health of our frontline responders is paramount to maintaining continuity of operations and ensuring our ability to provide lifesaving emergency medical care to the people of Howard County,” said Howard County Fire and Rescue Medical Director Dr. Matthew Levy. “The opportunity to participate in this serology testing program has improved our understanding of the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies amongst our emergency responders at this point in the pandemic.”
“I am glad to assist County Executive Ball on his serology testing initiative,” said Sherriff Marcus Harris. “The last nine months have been difficult, but this testing is yet another phase toward keeping our county safe. Prevention measures are working, so please continue to be diligent and wear your mask.”
The objective of the APL partnership is to develop a preliminary test plan to conduct a study to determine anti-body prevalence in the Howard County population. This study will allow the County to better assess how the virus has spread through Howard County. The seroprevalence study will be used to inform current policy and as a baseline to compare seroprevalence at the population level once vaccines are widely available.
“We have seen very clearly the importance of good data when it comes to protecting public health,” said Sheri Lewis, a global disease surveillance expert in APL’s National Health Mission Area. “Studies to better understand the potential spread of a disease in a timely fashion are critical tools to slow disease spread and save lives. In that vein, APL is eager to utilize the expertise of the Laboratory in our own community. The added situational awareness of the disease burden can inform county public health decision-making as we all navigate through this pandemic.”
Watch the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch v=QJyBK7eowHQ&feature=youtu.be