In March and April 2020, the United States federal government threw billions of dollars at new programs designed to keep the economy going strong for a few additional months. They have a litany of acronyms for these programs, including the PPP, SBA, and more, but the one acronym they really need to focus on is all but ignored: IgG.
Many medical students and residents studying for their exams know the mnemonic: IgG means a virus is gone, IgM means you have a virus at that moment. This concept applies to most viruses; that if a person tests IgG positive for that specific virus, it means they had and successfully cleared an infection from that invader. It is not routinely tested, but it is a simple blood test, and each virus has its own unique IgG and IgM test.
IgG and IgM testing for COVID-19 has existed for a few weeks already, but it is challenging to locate. When physicians are able to access it, it is either costly or runs out of stock too expeditiously.
Understanding this concept is the quickest way to restart the economy. It boils down to this: My cousin is a firefighter in Miami. Firefighters are heroes and absolutely essential, so the entire firehouse got tested for COVID-19 IgG and IgM. My cousin wound up testing IgG positive. Neither he, nor his immunocompromised wife, nor his three children ever had any real symptoms of the virus.
Now while this is not a guarantee, this would likely be a strong indicator that it would be safe for him and his family to go to restaurants, a movie theater, to work, etc. I would still encourage mask wearing to protect others, and we can open these commercial venues methodically. Those testing negative should still stay home for their own protection and the protection of others.
However, those individuals who are IgG positive and were asymptomatic are likely safe to return to a somewhat normal activity level. Even if there is a re-exposure risk, odds are they would have no symptoms when contracting COVID-19, as they did their first time. This would jump-start the economy better than any economic stimulus or acronym anyone could think about. People could spend money at restaurants, nail salons, and other commercial businesses that are currently reeling in this crisis. The United States government must act now and make IgG testing quickly and cheaply available.
Ian M. Kahane is an internal medicine physician.
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