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Baltimore, MD — The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) today announced its collaboration with 13 hospitals in the state to conduct an antibody (serology) study to determine how many Marylanders have been exposed to COVID-19. More than 6,000 people will be tested in the initial phase.

Serology tests indicate whether people have had a previous infection by looking for antibodies in their blood. Serology testing is not diagnostic like a PCR test to determine whether a person has an active COVID-19 infection. The serology test uses a blood sample to look for antibodies made in response to COVID-19, rather than looking for the virus itself.

The MDH study is part of an ongoing serology testing strategy to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 based on scientific data to guide state and local policies to ensure the health and safety of Marylanders. Additional testing will take place based on lessons learned and statistical gaps identified in the initial survey.

“Understanding the level and pattern of unrecognized community transmissions of COVID-19 is crucial to curb transmission and prevent a future wave of the pandemic,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “Establishing a baseline of those who have tested positive will help us better understand how it spreads so we can fight it more effectively.”

Hospitals participating in the study are representative of the state’s geography and expected levels of infection, based on confirmed COVID-19 cases and patients visiting emergency departments. Participating hospitals include:

  • UMPC Western Maryland
  • Carroll County Hospital
  • UM Shore Medical Center at Easton
  • Peninsula Regional
  • Frederick Memorial
  • Anne Arundel Medical Center
  • MedStar Franklin Square
  • Johns Hopkins Health System
  • Howard General Hospital
  • Holy Cross Hospital
  • Shady Grove Adventist
  • UM Prince George’s Hospital Center
  • MedStar Southern Maryland

MDH enlisted a design team for the serological testing study that includes the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, and the John Hopkins Emergency Department. The design team created a plan for hospitals to collect existing unused blood samples for the study. The plan was finalized by the MDH Scientific Advisory Board, a multidisciplinary team of academics, hospital leaders, and biostatistics experts.

“Emergency departments are a window into communities and can reveal the state of public health. They are one of the most important resources to provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 among all patients,” said Acting Deputy Secretary of Public Health Dr. Jinlene Chan.

“Results of the study will help state health officials refine patient surge needs and respond to additional waves of COVID-19 should they occur,” said Chief Operating Officer and Medicaid Director Dennis R. Schrader.

The MDH laboratory will process samples from patients who have their blood drawn during routine clinical care at the hospitals’ emergency departments/emergency rooms. Aggregate results will be reported back to the hospitals for their surge planning and community health efforts. MDH will include the data, including other aggregate serology data from other sources.

Additional information about the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at coronavirus.maryland.gov.