High prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in care homes affected by COVID-19; a prospective cohort study in England
Background: We investigated six London care homes experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak and found very high rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection among residents and staff. Here we report follow-up serological analysis in these care homes five weeks later. Methods: Residents and staff had a convalescent blood sample for SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels and neutralising antibodies by SARS-COV-2 RT-PCR five weeks after the primary COVID-19 outbreak investigation. Results: Of the 518 residents and staff in the initial investigation, 208/241 (86.3%) surviving residents and 186/254 (73.2%) staff underwent serological testing. Almost all SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR positive residents and staff were antibody positive five weeks later, whether symptomatic (residents 35/35, 100%; staff, 22/22, 100%) or asymptomatic (residents 32/33, 97.0%; staff 21/22, 95.1%). Symptomatic but SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR negative residents and staff also had high seropositivity rates (residents 23/27, 85.2%; staff 18/21, 85.7%), as did asymptomatic RT-PCR negative individuals (residents 62/92, 67.3%; staff 95/143, 66.4%). Neutralising antibody was present in 118/132 (89.4%) seropositive individuals and was not associated with age or symptoms. Ten residents (10/108, 9.3%) remained RT-PCR positive, but with lower RT-PCR cycle threshold values; all 7 tested were seropositive. New infections were detected in three residents and one staff member. Conclusions: RT-PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 significantly underestimates the true extent of an outbreak in institutional settings. Elderly frail residents and younger healthier staff were equally able to mount robust and neutralizing antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2. More than two-thirds of residents and staff members had detectable antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 irrespective of their nasal swab RT-PCR positivity or symptoms status.