Kevin de León, city councilmember-elect for Council District 14 confers with Paul Simon, chief scientific officer for the L.A. County Public Health Department at a drive-through antibody testing site in Los Angeles in April. | Photo by Kit Karzen

Kevin de León Steps Up in the Fight Against Coronavirus

2020 Editions Featured Front Page May

By T.A. Hendrickson

When USC and the Los Angeles County Public Health Department launched an effort in April to test Angelenos for antibodies to the coronavirus, Kevin de León, the City Councilmember-elect for Council District 14, received a special shout out.

De León “was an early champion” of the effort and continues to work closely with USC to expand anti-body testing, said USC’s Neeraj Sood, a professor of health policy and vice dean at the USC Price School of Public Policy who leads the project. Sood made his comments in a USC online forum.

The Boulevard Sentinel asked De León about his role in the antibody study and what he hopes will be achieved.

De León said his involvement dovetailed with his connections to the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute of State and Global Policy, where he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Climate, Environmental Justice and Health.

In March, as universities, hospitals and medical distributors began pressing for antibody testing, De León reached out to Sood to learn more. Sood responded by giving De León a crash course on the topic.

Unlike diagnostic testing, which reveals who has an active infection, antibody testing reveals who has had the virus and recovered, generating antibodies in the process.

Antibody testing can show how widely the virus has spread and the mortality rate associated with infection. These data are crucial to evaluating prevention measures.

Antibody testing might also shed light on immunity to the corornavirus in a population. Currently, scientists don’t know for sure if coronavirus antibodies signal immunity, though experience with other viruses suggests they probably do, at least for a limited time.

“Potentially, antibody testing could identify immune markers” said De Leon. That, in turn, would enable policymakers to use science to make crucial decisions, including “if and when everyday Angelenos could reenter the workforce,” he said.

Led by De León, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute provided funding and operational support to help establish the USC/L.A. County antibody testing program. Other funders include the USC President’s Office, the Jedel Family Foundation,  the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate and individual donors. “We’ve been raising money from anybody who will listen,” said De León.

Drive-through antibody testing was launched on April 10 and 11 at six sites in L.A. Some 1,000 participants were selected in advance by a market services firm, LRW Group, using a proprietary database to achieve a random, yet representative sample by age, race, gender and other factors.

The next round of antibody testing will take place on May 8 and 9 in Boyle Heights, in CD 14. De León said it was important to him to have testing in CD 14, where the profile of many residents – low-income, immigrant, elderly – overlaps with the profile of those hardest hit by the coronavirus.

The plan is to test a different group of roughly 1,000 people every couple of weeks for the next few months.

“This effort is about getting something done, not waiting around,” said De León.


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