Resilience for Our Community and the Continuing Antibody Test Debate

Published by David B. Roth, MD, PhD, on April 23, 2020

April 23 Update: From the Chair

Dear Members of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Community,

Today is Thursday, in case you are wondering. I would like to pass along a message from the HUP Executive Team from this morning: "Just as COVID-19 has forced each of us to demonstrate our resilience as individuals, it is also forcing us to demonstrate our resilience as an organization. We are confident, however, that we can endure these challenges through careful planning, prioritization, and stewardship."

I agree wholeheartedly and was reminded of something the artist and philanthropist Larry Harvey once said: "All real communities grow out of a shared confrontation with survival. Communities are not produced by sentiment or mere goodwill." This crisis is forging us into a closer, more resilient community.

Two interesting news stories caught my eye today. The Smithsonian Magazine writes about how modern hospital designs could be informed by COVID-19. One clear lesson: modern hospitals need the flexibility to accommodate a sudden surge of patients, something the new HUP East patient pavilion has already demonstrated ahead of its official opening.

Meanwhile, Wired reports on a pre-print Stanford antibody study that has already generated a lot of press coverage even before the study was peer reviewed. Wired says that this study is "emblematic of this age of rapid-fire scientific communications." Serological tests may give us insights into true infection and fatality rates, as well as insights into asymptomatic spread and immune responses to the virus, but the caveats around antibody testing still apply. In this case, the Stanford study used a lateral flow serology test from China that was not approved by that country's equivalent of the FDA. As our Director of Division of Laboratory Medicine, Dr. Irv Nachamkin, notes, "there is still serious uncertainty on how to interpret these tests" and thus far too early to implement such "testing for making clinical or patient management decisions."    

As you can see, access to accurate and practical information is crucial in these times. But it is not just scientific journals that provide this. As a public service, the Philadelphia Inquirer is making its articles and other critical public health and safety coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Given this, I urge you to please consider supporting local news outlets in any way you can. For example, here are some recent articles from the Inquirer I found worthwhile:

Tackling coronavirus is the next challenge for Penn cancer pioneer Carl June

Penn researchers analyze Twitter to track changing perceptions of coronavirus

Plasma, a 19th-century treatment, is being used to battle coronavirus infections

Please continue to take care of yourselves and help others whenever you can.

David Roth

David B. Roth, MD, PhD, is the Simon Flexner Professor and Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these blog columns are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.