So many people around the world have been infected with COVID-19 and recovered, others possess antibodies. If passengers have antibodies, should they be free to travel at will?
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In Theory, Travelers with Antibodies Should Be Immune
Little is known definitively about COVID-19 and it has the potential to change all the time. One leading theory is that those who have been infected with coronavirus hold an immunity that lasts around four months (though that was the length of the study so presumably that could be longer or even permanent.) That’s been upheld by the low re-infection rates – just five in the world and only one in the United States have been reinfected with COVID-19. The odds are around 1 in 10 million based on total infected which puts it in the anomaly territory. Chances of dying in an airplane crash, for example, is 1 in 11 million, becoming a billionaire in the US is far more likely at 1 in 785,000.
The problem with travel isn’t the threat of contracting the virus on an airplane alone, it’s the movement, and interaction with others that accompany travel that’s deemed to be the riskiest. Transporting to and from the airport, interacting with staff, the TSA, those dirty bins used for scanning electronics – those are much higher risk but remain a part of travel. If travelers are immune but touch the ticket desk, the TSA bin, a handrail, even though they may not be able to get sick, others who are suceptible could.
A new study, however, suggests that perhaps this might not be the case.
“What this means is that if people are reexposed to the virus, these cells, along with antibodies, will likely protect people from symptoms and further transmission.” – Nancy Schimelpfening; Healthline.com
It’s the last part of that statement, the result of an extensive study at the University of Washington, that holds the most weight. Much like wearing a mask is intended to protect others and not the wearer, the thought was that antibody holders might not be able to contract the virus again but could still infect others. This study suggests that’s unlikely.
Should Travelers With Antibodies Be Free to Travel?
Concern over travel is about the risk to travelers and the risk to others. Assuming the aforementioned study is valid, and the reinfection rate substantiates that at least since the beginning of COVID-19 known infections that it is, then should travelers with antibodies have any travel restrictions? Scientifically, at least according to these studies and doctors, would suggest that they pose no threat to themselves or others.
However, as none of the studies could possibly extend any longer than the first known infection, re-testing for antibodies may be necessary. Unfortunately, antibody testing is a blood test as opposed to a nasal mucus sample and cannot currently be done quickly and cheaply. That said, there is less of an immediate need for turn around as the studies have shown that it’s unclear if the antibodies will ever go away and make the traveler suceptible to both infection and transmission again.
I don’t see a reason at this point to restrict the movement of travelers with COVID-19 antibodies.
That’s a Lot of Travelers
As it stands now, there have unfortunately been 1.242 million COVID-19 linked deaths. A reader commented just last week that his own mother had died as a result of the virus. That’s terrible to hear. There is some good news, however. Every week mortality rates in the US have fallen in a significant way. Just over the last two weeks, mortality has dropped from 2.6 to 2.4% in the US and as cases increase (due in part to increased testing) treatment methods have improved and made it safer to contract the virus.
In the US alone 9.7 million have tested positive for the virus but 9.5 million would now have the antibodies. Globally, more than 48 million worldwide find themselves (at least for the time being) immune to infection and according to the study listed, immune from transmission. That would put an awful lot of people eligible to travel, work, and return to society as we knew it in 2019.
It’s difficult to take America out of the situation given that the US accounts for nearly 20% of infections and deaths. But ignoring the US for a moment, France and Germany were far stricter with regards to lockdowns, protocol and procedures, yet they’ve again locked down as cases have sharply risen. Sweden attempted a variety of models with mixed results.
We need to face a reality that COVID-19 may be with us forever. It’s also possible that by the time a vaccine is available the virus has so widely spread that its need is diminished. Should mortality rates continue to fall as precipitously as they have in recent weeks, it may also drop to a level in which contracting it is no longer a 1 in 45 chance of dying but far, far less. If travelers have antibodies, cannot themselves become ill with COVID-19 again nor can they infect others, there is little reason to hold them back from the world or society at large.
What do you think? Should people with antibodies be free to travel the world? Do we need to wait for further information? If so, how long do we wait to determine threat level and length of immunity?