Local News

New study finds some survivors may be protected from COVID-19

Posted November 20, 2020 3:21 p.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2020 7:21 p.m. EST

— More than 328 thousand North Carolinians have been infected with the coronavirus. Most have recovered, and many of them are wondering whether they're now immune to it.

A new study from California shows many of them may be protected, and their immunity can last for months or possibly years. But that's not true in every case.

Grant Staubs, pastor of Mid-Way Baptist Church in Raleigh, isn't taking any chances after surviving a bad bout of COVID-19 in the spring.

When he started feeling ill in April, Staubs thought it was just allergies. "It was right when pollen hit, so the timing of it was not good," he told WRAL News.

When his symptoms worsened, Staubs went to the hospital.

"They did a chest x-ray," he recalled, "and they said, 'Your lungs look like glass. You have COVID.'"

After a week in the hospital, Staubs recovered. His entire family came down with the illness as well, but they've recovered, too.

A new study by the La Jolla Institute of Immunology shows that battle may protect them for a long time.

The study monitored immune responses to coronavirus in 185 men and women between the ages of 19 and 81 who had recovered from COVID-19. Some, like Staubs, had serious cases, while others had only mild symptoms.

Eight months after infection, most people in the study still had enough immune cells to fend off the virus. Researchers say the response appears to decline slowly, so the protection may last for years in some people.

But a small number of people in the new study did not develop long-lasting immunity after recovery. And there have been confirmed cases of people contracting COVID-19 a second time, though the Centers for Disease Control says they're rare.

WRAL News asked UNC Infectious Disease Chief Dr. Joseph Eron, who has reviewed multiple studies on this topic, for his take.

"it would be very difficult for me to say something dramatic and definitive," Eron said, "but I think people who have had it are unlikely to get reinfected at least over a short period of time."

For now at least, Staubs isn't willing to bet on that. He wears a mask, holds services at reduced capacity, and requires social distancing at those services.

"I know I don’t want to get COVID again," he said, "so we are still being cautious."

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