A Laramie County resident tested positive for COVID-19 this week — roughly six months since first being tested positive in March. The reinfection was detected by testing performed at Stitches Acute Care Center, and calls into question long-held hopes for herd immunity.
“There are lots of known reinfections occurring in the nation,” said Amy Surdam, chief operating officer for Stitches Acute Care Center. “And I think the bigger point is that antibodies wane after a period of time — we’re thinking about four months or so.”
The possibility of reinfection also carries implications for an eventual vaccine. At the outset of the pandemic, medical professionals and lay people alike hoped society could achieve herd immunity or a vaccine — vaccines being a technology that seeks to recreate herd immunity without the death toll a natural herd immunity often entails.
Surdam and other medical professionals say a COVID-19 vaccine, depending on its efficacy, could end up being a seasonal necessity, not unlike getting a yearly flu shot.
In the meantime, and staring down an uncertain future, Surdam reiterated the importance of doing all one can to stem the spread, such as frequent handwashing, social distancing, and wearing masks.
“And we’re going to need to continue those behaviors, for probably quite a while, until we know the full extent of how this virus acts and behaves and morphs, and if we will be able to develop an effective vaccine or not,” she said.
Out of concern for the patient’s privacy, Surdam said she would not say whether the reinfected county resident was young or old, or had pre-existing conditions.
COVID-19 reinfections are rare, and Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti said Wyoming has not yet seen any likely reinfections.
“We do not have information on this particular situation,” Deti writes via email. “It’s a requirement to report any positive cases to our department. We would follow up on any likely cases of reinfection.”
But Surdam doubts this case is the first reinfection in Wyoming, or even in Laramie County. Surdam said her staff has seen suspected cases of reinfection before, where perhaps someone had symptoms earlier in the pandemic, recovered, and tested positive much later.
“We’ve definitely had more than this person,” Surdam said. “The point is … even if you’ve had it, it doesn’t mean you can not have a mask and not wash your hands and not social distance — especially if you’re at that point where your antibodies are waning, because there’s a chance of reinfection that we’re seeing more and more of as the virus goes on.”
The first reinfection in the United States was confirmed by the American Journal of Medical Care earlier this month. A 25-year-old Nevada man with no preexisting conditions was re-diagnosed with COVID-19 in June after first testing positive in April and testing negative twice during the time between.
The Nevada man’s second round with COVID-19 was more serious and he was even hospitalized.
The AJMC notes there were only four known reinfections worldwide before the case in Nevada Those were one each in Hong Kong, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Ecuador.
The Centers for Disease Control has also stated that reinfection is possible but, so far, uncommon.
“Confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been reported, but remain rare,” according to the CDC’s website. “CDC is actively working to learn more about reinfection to inform public health action.”