Low SARS-CoV-2 sero-prevalence based on anonymized residual sero-survey before and after first wave measures in British Columbia, Canada, March-May 2020


Danuta M Skowronski, Inna Sekirov, Suzana Sabaiduc, Macy Zou, Muhammad Morshed, David Lawrence, Kate Smolina, May A Ahmed, Eleni Galanis, Mieke Fraser, Mayank Singal, Monika Naus, David M Patrick, Samantha Kaweski, Christopher Mill, Romina C Reyes, Michael T Kelly, Paul N Levett, Martin Petric, Bonnie Henry, Mel Krajden


The province of British Columbia (BC) has been recognized for successful SARS-CoV-2 control, with surveillance data showing amongst the lowest case and death rates in Canada. We estimate sero-prevalence for two periods flanking the start (March) and end (May) of first-wave mitigation measures in BC.


Serial cross-sectional sampling was conducted using anonymized residual sera obtained from an outpatient laboratory network, including children and adults in the Greater Vancouver Area (population ~3 million) where community attack rates were expected to be highest. Screening used two chemiluminescent immuno-assays for spike (S1) and nucleocapsid antibodies. Samples sero-positive on either screening assay were assessed by a third assay targeting the S1 receptor binding domain plus a neutralization assay. Age-standardized sero-prevalence estimates were based on dual-assay positivity. The May sero-prevalence estimate was extrapolated to the source population to assess surveillance under-ascertainment, quantified as the ratio of estimated infections versus reported cases.


Serum collection dates spanned March 5-13 and May 15-27, 2020. In March, two of 869 specimens were dual-assay positive, with age-standardized sero-prevalence of 0.28% (95%CI=0.03-0.95). Neither specimen had detectable neutralizing antibodies. In May, four of 885 specimens were dual-assay positive, with age-standardized sero-prevalence of 0.55% (95%CI=0.15-1.37%). All four specimens had detectable neutralizing antibodies. We estimate ~8 times more infections than reported cases.


Less than 1% of British Columbians had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 when first-wave mitigation measures were relaxed in May 2020. Our findings indicate successful suppression of community transmission in BC, but also substantial residual susceptibility. Further sero-survey snapshots are planned as the pandemic unfolds.

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