Concerns rise over accuracy of coronavirus antibody testing

Antibody test concerns as states look to reopen
Antibody test concerns as states look to reop... 02:38

Health officials say blood tests that look for signs of whether someone has developed antibodies against coronavirus are key to re-opening the economy. But researchers at Harvard said the U.S. needs to nearly triple the current rate of testing to at least 500,000 people per day.

And at the same time, there are concerns about the accuracy of these tests.

On Monday, New York state kicked off the most aggressive antibody test survey in the nation — randomly sampling 3,000 people for evidence they have been infected by the coronavirus.

"We're starting the largest antibody test ever done today in New York. The largest sample," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The hope is antibody tests will help determine when Americans can return to work.

Already more than 35,000 New Yorkers have reached out to Mount Sinai to see if they qualify for the antibody test developed by researchers there — one of four tests granted "emergency use authorization" by the FDA.

High demand has spawned dozens of tests onto the market and the FDA is being criticized for favoring speed over accuracy, allowing too many to be sold without regulation.

"Even a very small false positive rate could lead to hundreds of thousands of people being told that they're safe when they might not be," said Dr. Ania Wajnberg of Mt. Sinai.

On Sunday, 478 New Yorkers died from coronavirus. Those lost to COVID-29 leave lasting legacies. One of them is 56-year-old Mohammed Jafor who worked long hours driving a cab in New York City to give his three children the best education possible. And succeed he did. Jafor's son, Mahtab Shihab, is a sophomore at Harvard University.

CBS News asked Shihab how much of what he does going forward is going to be for his father.

"Everything we do going forward is kind of making sure that his hard work and what he put into, as, as, like, as an immigrant was would be paid off that like his goal of having a successful future for his kids," he said. "And that's what I'm trying to do to the best of my ability."

On Monday, New York City canceled all public events in June — including the Puerto Rican Day and the Gay Pride parades which turn out millions every year.

Mount Sinai hospital is still researching its antibody testing. Meanwhile, an antibody study released from Los Angeles on Monday suggests that the number of people infected there at some point could be up to 55 times higher than current confirmed cases.

  • Mola Lenghi
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    Mola Lenghi is a correspondent for CBS News based in New York City.