Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter and anchor who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.
AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – Monday marked the second day in a row that the New York State Department of Health was conducting antibody testing. The state is conducting a “random survey” of 3,000 people, looking to see how may of them carry antibodies for the coronavirus. The answer will tell officials what percentage of the population have had the virus.
The department is “recruiting” shoppers in grocery stores to participate in the survey. Two Buffalo-area Wegmans locations are being used as testing sites: Alberta Dr. in Amherst and Amherst St. in Buffalo. A spokesperson for Tops said they have not been contacted by the state at this point.
By late Monday morning, word had apparently gotten out that Wegmans was being used as a testing site. The line at the Alberta Dr. location had elongated down the sidewalk. Chris Pyzynski was in that line.
“It’s always good to know,” Pyzynski said. “I had a cough for a while at Christmas-time for a couple of weeks. I thought maybe it was that.”
Sharon Caleca had a similar story.
“I believe I had it in January,” Caleca said. “I had most of the symptoms. It was the worst I’ve ever been sick. I even wrote a will.”
The long line, in which most people were masked and socially distanced, is exactly what the Department of Health wanted to avoid. Officials said the goal of this survey was to get a random sample, and not drive large crowds of people to a specific location.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get a representative group of adults that are racially and ethnically diverse,” said Brad Hutton, Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Department of Health.
When asked what the department would do about people who show up to the grocery stores specifically looking to get tested, a spokesperson said, “(W)e will continue testing as long as the testing site is open and supplies are sufficient.”
The World Health Organization has said there is not yet any evidence that such antibody tests prove that an immunity exists. But Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease expert at the University at Buffalo, says they still have value.
“We’re hopeful, based on what we do know about other coronaviruses, that it’s likely that natural infection will afford at least short term, and we’re hoping for longer term, immunity,” Russo said. “But we’re going to wait and see for the data to see how this plays out.”
Pyzynski understands, and said if her antibody test were to come back positive, she wouldn’t necessarily feel much safer.
“I just think they don’t know much about it yet,” she said.
The survey will be conducted using a fingerstick blood sample. The samples will be tested at the state’s Wadsworth Lab in Albany. Hutton said it will typically take two days to get results back.