SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Scientists in the Bay Area and around the country are focusing on antibody tests that could determine who has recovered from the coronavirus without ever knowing it. The results could be key in getting people back to work.

An ambitious testing program by the University of Miami began in South Florida, one of several nationwide awaiting FDA approval. The goal is to clear up the chaotic picture of just how widespread the virus is. They plan to test 3,500 randomly selected residents.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom said a test being developed at Stanford University may be released as soon as this week. The test uses a blood sample collected typically with a finger poke.

“All part of figuring out whether people have immunity, people have the kind of antibodies that will allow us to process new protocols in order to get people back into the workforce, or at least back into society in more traditional ways,” said Newsom.

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The test, also being developed at UCSF, and under study at UC Berkeley, looks for a person’s antibodies–the proteins the immune system makes to attack the COVID-19 virus. It doesn’t look for current infection; instead, it detects who has had it in the past, whether they knew it or not.

“The problem is not all antibodies are protected. So you might have a positive antibody test and not be protected,” said Art Reingold, Professor of Epidemiology at UC Berkeley. “Or you might have a positive test and the antibodies might go away over the next six months, or year or two years ”

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Reingold is part of the team at UC Berkeley doing research on the antibody test. Antibody tests could also help inform the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.