June 10, 2020
Antibody Testing Results
By Mayor Weaver
Two weeks ago, 1,441 people participated in a COVID-19 antibody testing program co-sponsored by the Town and MUSC. The goal of this testing was two-fold. The first objective was to give participants an accurate insight into whether they may have been infected. Because of the diverse symptoms and the number of asymptomatic cases, some residents may have suspected that they were exposed or suffered a mild case, but never sought testing. This testing provided every participant with a greater degree of certainty about whether they had been exposed.
Second, from a community-wide perspective, we wanted to know the extent to which our residents had been exposed, particularly since the weekly zip code reporting by DHEC suggested that we were experiencing little exposure but offered unclear insight.
The results community-wide were as follows (all numbers approximate):
Kiawah and Cassique full-time residents
1036 tests performed – 0.8% positive
All others tested 405 tests performed – 3.0% positive
(predominantly non-full-time property owners).
What does this mean for the community?
According to MUSC, we can draw a couple of likely conclusions from the very low exposure that we experienced. First, even with a high number of full-time residents that might be characterized as “vulnerable,” Kiawah might be expected to be less at risk for spreading the virus because of our low density and the amount of outdoor activity. This was surely aided by the early measures taken to promote social distancing, close business, and tourism activity minimizing the movement of people in and out of the community. In short, the many measures put in place by the governor, by local government, voluntarily by local businesses, and the actions of our residents and property owners were effective in limiting Kiawah’s exposure. This can work for or against Kiawah, depending on how the virus spreads during the summer and fall months.
The most obvious takeaway from this testing is that Kiawah, as a community, carries little or no immunity to the future spread of the virus. MUSC physicians would stress that Kiawah still benefits from its low density and open areas, and practicing personal social distancing continues to be an effective personal strategy. But with the influx of visitors to the island, we will assume a higher risk of exposure in close-quarter public areas. Additionally, as Kiawah residents take advantage of the opening of the Charleston economy or begin to travel, our risks also increase.
This health crisis is not over, which is evident from recent South Carolina statistics for new cases and new deaths. The focus has changed from preventing exposure at all costs to quickly identifying and managing the spread of the virus when outbreaks and reoccurrences happen. The data from this recent round of testing would indicate that Kiawah is still largely susceptible to the virus, but the actions we have taken individually and collectively have been successful. We are quickly returning to more normal activity, and with that brings new risks. The responsibility for managing our exposure has mostly returned entirely back to each of us individually.
Public health professionals continue to stress the two simple actions of social distancing and practicing personal hygiene. Those are still key to avoid this virus.