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Think you had COVID-19? Chances are good...you didn't

As more Coloradans receive antibody testing, the state is getting a better idea of how many people were sickened by the novel coronavirus. It's not a lot.

DENVER — Dr. David Buether admitted the antibody testing program at National Jewish Health has been, in his words, “bursting a lot of bubbles” as of late.

“Everybody wants to tell themselves a story that the symptom they had – the cough, shortness of breath they had in March of April – that maybe they had a case of COVID-19,” he said.

One of the region’s most robust antibody testing programs has failed to find anything close to a virus that has run its course in the area.

“It really has only been a small percentage – single-digit percentage – of how many people have already had this in Colorado,” he said.

Tuesday, leaders with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) estimated less than 3% of Coloradans have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

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Recently, 9NEWS photojournalist Anna Hewson received an antibody test at National Jewish. Hewson had gotten so sick in late March that she went to an emergency room for treatment.

Credit: KUSA

Because she wasn’t admitted, doctors did not test her at the time for COVID-19.   It was common for tests in late March to be reserved only for inpatients.

9NEWS did not ask for, nor did it receive, a free test from the hospital. Hewson signed up online and was not given any special privileges in an effort to avoid the idea that she might be taking a test away from someone else.

Antibody tests, unlike the more common tests involving swabs that look solely for active virus, involve a search for antibodies produced by the body after a viral infection.

The antibodies represent the body’s way of fighting back and afford anyone who has them a certain amount of immunity from the disease that led to the antibodies' production in the first place.

It’s not exactly known how much immunity antibodies from COVID-19 gives to someone, but Beuther said it’s clear there is at least a limited amount.  

“We don’t know if it lasts a year, or two, or whether it might last for decades,” he said.

Regardless, one day after Hewson was tested, she received word that the test revealed no sign of antibodies to COVID-19.

Another bubble burst.

Based on the results so far, she’s hardly the only one to feel that way.

> More on National Jewish Health’s antibody testing program can be found here.


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