Largest antibody study could answer crucial coronavirus questions

38,000 workers across a hospital system near Detroit have the chance to get tested which would help answer questions about the disease and possible immunity.
6:57 | 04/15/20

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Transcript for Largest antibody study could answer crucial coronavirus questions
Now to those major new developments involving antibody testing. One of the tools that may help re-open the country. Trials have now gotten under way coast to coast from California where usc and Stanford are leading studies to the midwest and the northeast, but the biggest one yet, now taking place near Detroit where 38,000 workers across a hospital system have the chance to get tested and help answer so many crucial questions about the disease and possible immunity. Diane sawyer spoke with a doctor spearheading this groundbreaking new initiative. This is what action looks like. And what can happen when the doctors and scientists decide to go big. Dr. Sims, you are doing 38,000 tests. That's a pretty staggering number. I would have never guessed I would do this sort of a study before. Reporter: The staff of the Beaumont health system in Michigan geared number just three weeks. Launching a study by the medical experts getting test kits, reviewing the accuracy and mobilizing teams. And yesterday the Beaumont staff started to line up. Each test a vial of blood which may reveal whether you have the antibodies you produce to fight the coronavirus. One of the first questions to answer, how many of the potentially 38,000 people will have antibodies, even if they had no symptoms of the virus. This is 100% voluntary. But I -- from the reaction I've seen, most people want to do this. Most people want to know and, you know, just I mean one of the most amazing things yesterday, I was by the blood draw station and one of the people just turned, saw me, you know and just, you know, he couldn't shake my hand but he kind of did a little bow and just said, thank you for all of this. You're trying to save us. You know, I was just awed by that. The sheer gratitude that I've seen from some people, I mean, it floors me. Reporter: One of the first to line up was Beaumont lab manager Tyler who had a high fever back in February. Now he believes he knows exactly what it was, two days ago he got the message he was positive for covid antibodies. What kind of relief did you feel when you heard this? It's kind of like a little bit of a weight got lifted just because there are so many people that are get ago affected by in that it's nice to know that I somehow got through it without too much issue. Reporter: But Tyler and others, even those with antibodies are told not to change their careful and safe behavior until more is learned about when these antibodies appear and whether they actually convey immunity. Proof of immunity will take time. Are you pretty confident that this is going to -- this is going to show evidence of immunity? I'm hoping it shows evidence of immunity. Most viruses, when you get antibodies, you get immunity. Gives us every reason to think they should be protected but until we prove it, we don't know. This is the study that's going to help prove it. Are you doing a preview of what it will be like to get a huge population back into their lives, back into the future? You know, that's what we hope to do with this. You know, part of the goal of this is to figure out how to get people back to work, how to get people back to a relatively normal life. Reporter: Just some of the teams on the front lines this morning, taking action, hoping to gain information, hoping no time will be wasted. So, robin, Michael, George, hello and I wanted you to know I have been talking to scientists all across this country about how they are taking action and what they're finding and I can't wait to report back in to you. Talk to you soong. Ah. Hello, Diane. We cannot wait. She is the one for that kind of reporting, I'm telling you. She's going to get some answers for us. Wonderful to see her and great to see how the group of people like that, how they're stepping up, Michael, to make themselves available for that type of testing. Everybody is doing what they can. Speaking of getting answers we'll bring in Dr. Ashton now who will answer a few of our questions. We saw 38,000 people. That's significant, which would make the study significant. What do we hope to learn from the study? Well, Michael, it's really about the who, what, where, when, how, and hope to learn who develops antibody, whether people who have mild or no symptoms at all can develop antibodies, when they're developed, how long they last, how powerful they are. All of that is going to be critically important information to help us fight this virus moving forward. We see the fda authorized a new saliva test. Could that be a game changer in our fight? Well, we hope so again, for a test to really be effective, we have to know how accurate it is. Obviously it seems like it will be easy to use and more importantly will reduce exposure and risk to health care workers but, Michael, until we see how accurate a test is, that's all to be determined but I think we need to move to a point where this testing for covid-19 can be a simple as a home pregnancy test and so any time we have another option, that's potentially encouraging and exciting. We see the symptoms vary from person to person. We even see it with our own George and Ali, the symptoms are a lot different. Are there any theories on why may be asymptomatic? There are and, remember, this virus is just barely four months old so we're still learning a lot. It's still teaching us a lot but we do know with other respiratory viral infections like influenza there can be a range or spectrum of severity. It may have something to do with how much viral load someone is exposed to, again, that is why we need to test people with no symptoms whatsoever so we can learn about the mild or aim matic expression of this virus. The W.H.O. Say this unknown in people can be reinfected but in South Korea they have people who got over it and were tested and are positive again. What is different about Thi virus? Why is it so difficult to get rid of? Well, you know, it's new. It's sneaky, it's highly transmissible and it's dangerous. That South Korea data, we don't know whether their initial negative test result was a false negative, whether they were reinfected, whether they could still shed virus but not be contagious, so, again, think of this like you have the new relative in your family and know the parents but don't know the relative yet. You think you know how they'll behave but you still need to be introduced to that person. This is kind of the same thing.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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