LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Researchers say many people in Louisville may have had the coronavirus and didn't even know it.

The University of Louisville's study into the Co-Immunity Project discovered that COVID-19 may be more widespread than originally thought.

U of L found that 4 to 6 times more people in Louisville may have been exposed to the virus, since the beginning of the pandemic. Results of the study were released on Thursday, after weeks of tracking the spread of the virus by testing people for antibodies to determine whether they had been infected.

The collaboration between U of L and Louisville Healthcare CEO Council started in April. The second phase of the project tested 2,237 people between June 10-19. That's about 0.4 percent of Jefferson County's population. The study invited about 509 people to participate, and 1,728 residents booked appointments on their own for testing, after hearing about the study.

The study organized households in Jefferson County in to geographic regions based on Census data to get a representative demographic to sample. Invitations were sent to households to ask them to participate. Based on age and gender of adults in the household, one adult from each household was asked to provide a sample.

Of the 2,237 individuals who were tested, 10 percent were non-White. The ages of tested individuals were as follows:

  • 21 percent between 18-34
  • 40 percent between 35-59
  • 40 percent age 60 or older

Assistant professor of environmental medicine at U of L, Dr. Rachel Keith, said the data compared to the population size suggests as many as 20,000 people in Louisville may have been exposed to COVID-19.

"It also shows us that this virus may have been more widespread in our community than we originally thought, which indicates, and I believe, that we need continued testing and widespread testing and there is utility to antibody testing to understand the spread of the disease," she said.

Keith explained that many study participants said they believed they had COVID-19 before testing was widely available. But she said there is evidence to believe that the estimated number of people who have had the virus may be 4-6 times higher than those who have tested positive to-date.

The project's researchers say more work needs to be done to have an accurate look at the still very new COVID-19.

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