City partners with Massachusetts General Hospital on randomized antibody testing for 1,000 residents
Mayor Martin J. Walsh together with Dr. Peter Slavin, President of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) today announced that approximately 1,000 residents in the City of Boston will be invited to participate in a study to evaluate community exposure to COVID-19 through antibody testing. The sampling will focus on residents living in East Boston, Roslindale and within the boundaries of zip codes 02121 and 02125 in Dorchester. Outreach to residents in those areas began today.
"It is our hope that by conducting this testing, we as a collective City will get a better understanding of the true prevalence of COVID-19 in our community," said Mayor Walsh. "The more we can expand our testing, the more we can learn how to use our medical resources more efficiently, and how we need to focus our current efforts to contain the virus. I want to thank MGH for being an excellent partner on this effort that we hope will be a step forward towards the path to recovery."
As part of the study, MGH will collect data of 1,000 asymptomatic Boston residents this week by administering testing for both the COVID-19 virus and the COVID-19 antibodies. Testing for COVID-19 virus is done by means of a swab of the nose and determines if you have the infection. Antibody testing is done by means of blood drawn through a finger prick and detects whether your blood has antibodies that are present when the body is responding to an infection, like COVID-19. Any resident who tests positive for the COVID-19 virus or the COVID-19 antibodies will be provided with clear guidance and information on how to care for themselves and those around them.
This randomized testing is critical, as the CDC estimates that nationally 25 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, and may not know they are a carrier of the virus, or that they could be infecting others.
"We are at war with COVID-19, and overcoming this viral enemy demands knowledge, strategy and intelligence gathering," said Peter L. Slavin, MD, president of Massachusetts General Hospital. "A growing body of evidence suggests that many people who have been infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, but we don't yet know how prevalent the disease is in our city, in our communities and in our society. Data from this testing in Boston will provide vital clues into the spread of the virus and will help us develop strategies to slow down or stop this invisible foe."
Participation in the study is entirely voluntary for residents who have been contacted, is available to them on a first come, first serve basis up to 1,000 residents, and residents will not be charged for testing. Testing for this study is expected to be completed by May 1, and summary data of the the compiled results will be made publicly available, including the numbers and percentage of residents who test positive for the COVID-19 virus and COVID-19 antibodies, both within the neighborhoods included and the total study group tested. In accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), no personal information from any participants will be shared.
This announcement builds on Mayor Walsh's commitment to increase access to testing for Boston residents, which will allow for better understanding of the spread and inform a path to recovery. In the last week alone, Boston has had a 30 percent increase in the amount of testing happening citywide, making a concerted effort in the hardest-hit areas. For example, in the last week, Hyde Park had a 57 percent increase in testing, Mattapan had a 35 percent increase in testing, and the hardest-hit parts of Dorchester had a 37 percent increase in testing.
On Friday, Mayor Walsh announced the City of Boston will move forward with universal testing for COVID-19 (coronavirus) for all unhoused individuals in Boston. The City of Boston has secured an additional 1,000 tests, which will allow public health officials to test all clients in Boston's shelter system over the next two weeks.
Through the Boston Resiliency Fund, the City has dedicated over $760,000 to expand COVID-19 testing at nine community health centers in East Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. There are now currently 15 testing sites up and running across the City of Boston, which includes 10 operated by community health centers, and 5 operated by hospitals. A full map of testing sites is available online. Residents are encouraged to call ahead to be pre-screened, and pre-scheduled appointments are required. Residents will not be charged for testing and residents will not be asked about immigration status.
In addition, the City of Boston has made available weekly data on testing at the neighborhood level, with new reports including the number of people tested, and positive testing rates for each neighborhood. The latest data was shared on Friday, April 24 and can be found online.