Virus notes: Baker questions antibody testing accuracy, utility

White House touts aid to Mass.; court closures extended to June 1

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER threw up a caution flag on Monday on the rush test people for coronavirus antibodies. 

Along with urgent efforts to expand testing for the coronavirus, public health officials have begun testing people for antibodies to the virus, blood markers that indicate a past infection with the virus. A big part of the interest is antibody testing has centered on the idea that those who have been infected may have immunity against the virus, at least for some period of time. 

But Baker appeared skeptical of widespread antibody testing right now.

Baker said most antibody tests are not FDA-approved and have false test results in 5 percent to 35 percent of those who are screened. Even those with FDA approval generally have not gone through the traditional approval process. “To really ramp up in a big way antibody testing that can be deemed reliable, the FDA needs to do the work, then decide which tests they view as being the ones that are approved and effective and accurate,” Baker said. A test that is wrong one third of the time, Baker said, “is not very helpful.”

As Baker pointed out, even once the government finds an antibody test that is 95 percent accurate, it is still unknown whether antibodies guarantee immunity and for how long.

Baker said he believes the most important thing right now is to ramp for the virus, which determines whether someone currently has COVID-19. That is particularly important since a large percentage of people with COVID-19 do not show symptoms but can be carriers of the contagious disease.

Today, labs are processing around 8,000 to 10,000 tests a day for Massachusetts residents. Baker said he believes more than that will be necessary.

The Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University, in a policy brief issued last week, estimated that Massachusetts will need to conduct between 10,500 and 17,000 tests per day in order to be able to test and trace all cases of the virus to ensure that anyone who is exposed is quarantined.

White House tallies up Massachusetts COVID-19 aid 

Massachusetts has or will receive more than $4 billion in federal money to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, according to newly released figure from the White House.

According to the figures, Massachusetts has gotten $951.3 million from the US Department of Health and Human Services to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. By far the biggest chunk of that money is $841 million that went directly to hospitals and health care providers. There was additional money for community health centers, Indian health services and rural hospitals. Most recently, the US Centers for Disease Control on April 23 said Massachusetts will receive $12.9 million from the federal CARES Act for testing, contact tracing, and containment of COVID-19 as part of federal efforts to “reopen America.”

Massachusetts state and local governments are expected to receive another $2.6 billion in direct government aid under the CARES Act.

Another $1 billion is earmarked for public transportation.

The CARES Act gave Massachusetts $264 million for education costs; $93 million in funding for housing; $25 million for unemployment insurance; and $16.5 million for law enforcement, jails and first responders.

Court closures extended until June 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has extended the closing of state courthouses to the public until June 1 due to COVID-19. 

The updated order was issued Monday. The SJC had previously set May 4 as the date for courthouses to reopen.

Court hearings are currently being held by telephone or video conferencing, including those with oral arguments.  

Court clerks are conducting most business virtually, although pleadings and some documents in emergency matters are still being filed in person. Court buildings are only open for emergency matters. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Jury trials in both criminal and civil cases in state courts are postponed to at least July 1. Bench trials in civil and criminal matters are postponed to at least June 1, unless they can be conducted virtually by agreement of both parties and the court. 

Today’s order also directs Trial Court departments to identify categories of non-emergency matters they want to attempt to address virtually.