OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials plan to start testing statewide to estimate what percentage might already have developed the COVID-19 antibody.

Health officials plan to select 1,000 Oklahomans randomly to complete serological COVID-19 testing starting in the next week, Gov. Kevin Stitt said in an interview Thursday with CNHI Oklahoma. He said the goal is collect an accurate sample so that statisticians can determine how many Oklahomans may already have developed an immunity to the deadly virus.

Serological testing measures the amount of antibodies in the blood by detecting an immune response to the virus, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency said more than 70 test developers have said they’ve developed COVID-19 serological tests.

Stitt said many Oklahomans may have no idea if they’ve been exposed already. Such testing will provide a key data point for state leaders in determining when it's safe to get people back to work.

As of Thursday, 1,684

Oklahomans have tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials reported 415 hospitalizations and 80 deaths.

The World Health Organization said there have been reports of people contracting the virus, but who suffer no symptoms. World health officials said they can still spread it.

“Serological tests can play a critical role in the fight against COVID-19 by helping health care professionals to identify individuals who have overcome an infection in the past and have developed an immune response,” the FDA said in a press release Tuesday. “In the future, this may potentially be used to help determine, together with other clinical data, that such individuals are no longer susceptible to infection and can return to work.”

The tests also can help determine who can donate plasma as part of an experimental treatment for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, the agency said.

The FDA noted that because a person’s immune response is still building in the early days of COVID-19 exposure, the test may fail to detect antibodies. That can limit its effectiveness, which is why testing symptomatic individuals is important.

Still, many Oklahomans may feel relieved to learn that they already have developed an immunity to the deadly virus, Stitt said.

Stitt said other states are developing similar testing plans, but he expects Oklahoma to be a leader in emerging from the crisis.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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