LOS ANGELES – It's a simple blood test, a finger prick, but the results could represent an important next step in the fight against COVID-19.

Drive-thru blood testing began on Friday at six locations in L.A. County as part of a new pilot study headed by Dr. Neeraj Sood of University of Southern California, in partnership with the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

“We want to understand how many people in Los Angeles County have ever had a Covid-19 infection," Sood said.



He is hoping to do so through antibody testing. Antibodies are immune cells that help fight off infection and could provide protection from reinfection of the coronavirus. In this case, testing for antibodies could help tell researchers how widely spread and how deadly the virus may be.

“One, it helps us predict future health care use," Sood said. "And second, it helps us figure out how dramatically we should be attacking this disease.”

The results could also help paint a more complete picture for health officials and researchers trying to shed more light on the public's many unanswered questions.

“We want to answer your questions, when will this end? When are we going to get back to normal," Sood said. "So, tracking these infections helps us get a better prediction of when this epidemic is going to end. It helps us figure out whether what we’re doing right now is working or not."




While this testing will provide important information, Dr. Paul Simon of L.A. County Health and another of the study's principal investigators cautioned that it will not be an end all, be all.

“People need to understand that even if we find many people with mild or no symptoms, it is a serious issue. We don't want to give the public a false sense of security," Simon said.

He went on to say he believes social distancing will continue to play a key role in the coming weeks, but that this research can provide hope that those with antibodies might be able to get back to work faster.

"It may mean, as we expand, that for our essential workers, we may make a decision to encourage folks to go back to work if they have that antibody," he said. We’re not there yet but it’s something we’ll consider."

Which is why Dr. Sood said that the serology tests are in such high demand.

“If you look at my email, it is filled with people saying, can I join your study or can you give me an antibody test because people are anxious," he said.

The current pilot study tested a representative sample of 1,000 people and the plan is to repeat the testing every two to three weeks. As they continue moving forward, the research will illuminate the effects of current measures to fight the spread and offer clues as to what the future might bring.