Universal PCR and antibody testing demonstrate little to no transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a rural community

medRxiv. 2020 Aug 17;2020.08.15.20175786. doi: 10.1101/2020.08.15.20175786. Preprint


Background: The absence of systematic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 has curtailed accurate appraisal of transmission intensity. Our objective was to perform case detection of an entire rural community to quantify SARS-CoV-2 transmission using PCR and antibody testing.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of the prevalence and cumulative incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the rural town of Bolinas, California (population 1,620), four weeks following shelter-in-place orders. Residents and county essential workers were tested between April 20th-24th, 2020. Prevalence by PCR and seroprevalence combining data from two forms of antibody testing were performed in parallel (Abbott ARCHITECT IgG to nucleocapsid protein and in-house IgG ELISA to the receptor binding domain).

Results: Of 1,891 participants, 1,312 were confirmed Bolinas residents (>80% community ascertainment). Zero participants were PCR positive. Assuming 80% sensitivity, it would have been unlikely to observe these results (p<0.05) if there were >3 active infections in the community. Based on antibody results, estimated prevalence of prior infection was 0.16% (95% CrI: 0.02%, 0.46%). Seroprevalence estimates using only one of the two tests would have been higher, with greater uncertainty. The positive predictive value (PPV) of a positive result on both tests was 99.11% (95% CrI: 95.75%, 99.94%), compared to PPV 44.19%-63.32% (95% CrI range 3.25%-98.64%) if only one test was utilized.

Conclusions: Four weeks following shelter-in-place, active and prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in a rural Northern California community was extremely rare. In this low prevalence setting, use of two antibody tests increased the PPV and precision of seroprevalence estimates.

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  • Preprint