SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence among a Southern U.S. Population Indicates Limited Asymptomatic Spread under Physical Distancing Measures

mBio. 2020 Sep 29;11(5):e02426-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02426-20.


Characterizing the asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2 is important for understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. This study was aimed at determining asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2 in a suburban, Southern U.S. population during a period of state restrictions and physical distancing mandates. This is one of the first published seroprevalence studies from North Carolina and included multicenter, primary care, and emergency care facilities serving a low-density, suburban and rural population since description of the North Carolina state index case introducing the SARS-CoV-2 respiratory pathogen to this population. To estimate point seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 among asymptomatic individuals over time, two cohort studies were examined. The first cohort study, named ScreenNC, was comprised of outpatient clinics, and the second cohort study, named ScreenNC2, was comprised of inpatients unrelated to COVID-19. Asymptomatic infection by SARS-CoV-2 (with no clinical symptoms) was examined using an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)-approved antibody test (Abbott) for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 IgG. This assay as performed under CLIA had a reported specificity/sensitivity of 100%/99.6%. ScreenNC identified 24 out of 2,973 (0.8%) positive individuals among asymptomatic participants accessing health care during 28 April to 19 June 2020, which was increasing over time. A separate cohort, ScreenNC2, sampled from 3 March to 4 June 2020, identified 10 out of 1,449 (0.7%) positive participants.IMPORTANCE This study suggests limited but accelerating asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2. Asymptomatic infections, like symptomatic infections, disproportionately affected vulnerable communities in this population, and seroprevalence was higher in African American participants than in White participants. The low, overall prevalence may reflect the success of shelter-in-place mandates at the time this study was performed and of maintaining effective physical distancing practices among suburban populations. Under these public health measures and aggressive case finding, outbreak clusters did not spread into the general population.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; antibody; coronavirus; seroprevalence.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Asymptomatic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • COVID-19
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mandatory Programs
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies


  • Antibodies, Viral