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Antibody Screening In Orange County Finds COVID-19 More Widespread Than Previously Thought

IRVINE (CBSLA) - The coronavirus could be far more widespread in Orange County than previously thought, researchers announced Wednesday.

A UC Irvine study found 11.5% of county residents have antibodies for COVID-19, contrasted with previous estimates of less than 2%.

According to researchers, Latino and low-income residents had the highest prevalence of SARS-CoV-02 antibodies with rates of 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

Nearly 3,000 random people enrolled for the study, and all participants provided demographic information, revealed whether they had experienced any coronavirus symptoms, and were asked if they'd be willing to undergo blood screening for antibodies.

Participants visited one of 11 drive-thru testing sites, where medically trained volunteers comprised primarily of UCI students and alumni collected blood samples using finger pinpricks.

UCI researchers initiated the study in large part because they suspected that the prevalence of COVID-19 had been underestimated, since individuals with few to no symptoms were rarely tested.

"There was this lurking suspicion that there's a large fraction of people who have had it that did not know," said Tim Bruckner, associate professor of public health. "Either they had symptoms and did not seek care, or they did not have symptoms and had no reason to go."

The results will enable health officials in the sixth-largest county in the U.S. to identify key demographics at higher risk of contracting – and having adverse outcomes from – the virus.

On Wednesday, Orange County reported 13 more virus-related fatalities and 233 more cases. The death toll stands at 1,467 and the cumulative case count is 59,213.

The relatively high number of daily cases continues to jeopardize the county's chance to move into a less-restrictive tier of the state's re-opening road-map.

County officials have been aiming for an average daily case count of about 130, which would allow O.C. to move from the red to the orange tier. If the trend continues, the county could slip back to the purple tier.

"The seven-day average is still in the low 5's on case rates,'' said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. "Those high numbers have been spread out over the last week, so hopefully we stay in the red tier.''

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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