When Catherine Zito, who lives in Chelsea and works in finance, tested positive for having coronavirus antibodies on May 4, she texted at least 15 friends.

“I’ve never been so happy for a positive test in my life,” she said. “Usually you want these tests to be negative.”

Since March, Ms. Zito, 53, had spent most of the pandemic at home. But she did visit the supermarket and go to physical therapy, using an Uber for transportation.

“There was also this day in early March, when I was shoulder to shoulder with people on a No. 6 train,” she said. She never experienced symptoms of Covid-19, but she hoped these actions were enough to get some exposure and perhaps, if science one day proves it, immunity.

“Everyone was jealous of my results,” she said. “A few people called me Wonder Woman or Superwoman.

“A colleague who I was working with in an office tested negative for them. I could tell he was angry.”

New Yorkers are still in the early days of antibody testing. Doctors and scientists know that possessing antibodies means patients have had some exposure to the virus. But they aren’t sure yet what that means. Could those with antibodies get Covid-19 again? Could they still pass the virus to someone else? It’s also unclear whether antibodies will play any role in determining who can go back to work or socialize or travel

Ms. Zito, for one, is playing golf again, discussing returning to work with her colleagues, has trips to France and Switzerland planned, and is visiting her 80-year-old mother in New Jersey again. “That has been very nice for both of us,” she said.

“In general, a positive antibody test is presumed to mean a person has been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, at some point in the past,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. “We currently don’t have enough information yet to say whether someone will definitely be immune and protected from reinfection if they have antibodies to the virus.”

Still, many people across the city are deriving great meaning from their test results and projecting hopes and fears onto them.

Some with positive antibody results, like Ms. Zito, feel triumphant they came into contact with the virus and it didn’t cripple them. Others feel less anxious, knowing their body already fought the illness to some extent.

Those who test negative see it as validation that their social distancing measures are working, and they should stay the course.

Judith Kafka, a professor who lives in Brooklyn, certainly saw an upside to testing negative for antibodies. Her husband had Covid-19, but the family was quick to isolate him. “We were really, really careful after he was sick, so I guess this means we did a good job,” said Ms. Kafka, 46.

She and her husband’s test results have been the subject of conversation among friends and family members outside of New York. “In the rest of the country, they are a lot more removed,” she said. “Knowing someone who got sick and knowing somebody with antibodies is a big deal. There is a lot of curiosity, and they all want to know how it works.”

One way the antibody test “works” for New Yorkers is that it can help solve the mystery of whether they were exposed to the virus to begin with. Many people who got sick in the early days of the pandemic did not have access to virus tests, like the family of Lauren McFarland, a ceramic artist in Brooklyn.

“We were all sick in March except my 12-year-old,” said Ms. McFarland, 48, who has three sons, 12, 11, and 8. “We also had a group of friends who got sick at the same time. We all looked up the symptoms and talked about them nonstop,” she said. But the tests were not available. “There was this ongoing conversation about whether we had it.”

Now they have some clarity: the entire family and most of the friend group tested positive for antibodies. “I would hate to never actually know,” she said. “It’s one fact we can count on in this whole thing.”

She hopes having antibodies will help her family out in the future. “What if there is a stamp in our passport, or we are a different color on an app, or it means the boys can go to sleepaway camp?” she said. “My friends and I joke that the positives can hang out with the positives.”

  • Updated June 2, 2020

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


The World Health Organization has suggested that such a practice would be far in the future. A science brief published in April by the organization stated that even though there has been some discussion that antibodies “could serve as the basis for an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate’ that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection,” there was no evidence that antibodies can protect someone from getting infected again.

For this reason, Marsheen Truesdale, 40, who drives along the 14th Street bus line for the M.T.A., remains wary, even though he has tested positive for antibodies. “I use precautions, but in my head, I have built up anxiety,” he said. “It’s constant questioning, questioning, questioning.” That said, he admitted to being much more relaxed since getting his test results.

He has tried to persuade some of his colleagues to take the test. “I don’t think a lot of them even understand the concept of what antibodies are,” he said. “They want to know if they should keep me at a distance.”

Samantha Netkin, 27, is an editor whose fiancé, a medical resident, tested positive for antibodies. She didn’t. “We are all just confused,” she said. “I hope that the antibodies are protective, and it seems they are in the short term, but time will tell.”

Jazz Ross, a TV producer who lives in Ridgewood, Queens, said that she doesn’t care if she has antibodies. Ms. Ross, 30, was hospitalized for nine days in March for the coronavirus.

As she put it: “It won’t change my anxiety until someone tells me that those with antibodies will be immune to Covid-19 forever.”



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