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UPMC entering new phase of coronavirus testing

PITTSBURGH — The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is entering a new phase of coronavirus testing.

Last week, Los Angeles became the first major city in the United States to open up testing to people even if they don’t have symptoms. UPMC is now doing the same.

“As we're coming down from the high numbers of symptomatically infected people, we do need to know how many are carrying it that we don't know about to help protect the most vulnerable,” Dr. Donald Yealy, chair of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, said.

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Yealy believes the new emphasis on asymptomatic people will help in the fight against COVID-19.

“That's where one or two percent of the entire population, particularly if it's chosen right, will help us understand how much is lurking around that we haven't already figured out,” Yealy said. “I don't think 100 percent testing is possible, nor is it actually even necessary.”

UPMC has started testing asymptomatic people who come into its hospitals for other conditions. Yealy thinks that will keep expanding.

“I suspect to get a better handle on the population, eventually, maybe not this week or next, we'll actually have to go out to sample people where they're at,” Yealy said.

UPMC announced last week it will start offering antibody tests to see who was infected and now has antibodies. That could happen in the next two to four weeks, but the test is still being developed, according to Yealy.

>>STORY: UPMC to begin COVID-19 antibody testing at its hospitals

“All we can test for today is the general antibodies that come up with this or a similar virus. It doesn't actually tell me are you still immune. I can get some information, but not the ideal information,” Yealy said.

Yealy pointed out that while testing for COVID-19 has to keep maturating, researchers have achieved a lot in just a few months. The rapid flu test took 40 years to fine-tune.

“That is something that is often lost in the assessment of the COVID-19 response,” Yealy said.