Everyone Wants an Antibody Test. Everyone on This Private Island Can Get One.

MIAMI — Things are different in Fisher Island, the exclusive enclave off Miami Beach that is one of the wealthiest places in America. No uninvited outsiders are allowed in. Entrance is permitted only by boat.

Everyone Wants an Antibody Test. Everyone on This Private Island Can Get One.

And everyone who lives or works there can now get tested to see if they have developed protective antibodies to the coronavirus.

The island has secured the much-sought-after tests for all its residents and their staff through the University of Miami, which has a clinic on site that started scheduling residents last week for appointments, building by building, for a finger-prick blood test. In a matter of minutes, each person learned their results. Home health aides and housekeepers also got tested.

The test is not the diagnostic nasal swab that detects active exposure to the virus. It will not tell someone with symptoms if they are sick.

What the antibodies tests can do is track how many people might have been exposed to the virus, helpful information for academics, experts and policymakers. For residents, the tests can reveal that, even if they did not experience symptoms, they might have already had a brush with the virus.

Although health authorities are hurrying to make the tests more widely available, that sort of peace of mind is still hard to come by in most communities in Florida and across the country. But Fisher Island, a barrier island less than half a square mile in size with a population of less than 1,000 people, is not most places. (“Live on Fisher Island and get buried in Palm Beach,” riffed the 1996 movie “The Birdcage.” “That way you’ll get the best of Florida.”)

After the coronavirus pandemic began, Fisher Island prohibited entry to guests. Ferry service has continued, but only for residents and the limited number of employees still allowed on the island to landscape, work at the local market and provide other essential services.

The marina and club on the island, where one-time equity membership costs $250,000, are closed. So are the beach, golf course, tennis courts and pool.

“I call it Alcatraz — since we are surrounded by water and we have no place to go,” joked Daniel Azoulay, 74, a contemporary art and fashion photographer who has lived on the island for 29 years and has not left it for the past month.

He went for his test Friday, knowing that it would not give him definitive information about any possible immunity: “They just let you know if you have any antibodies, and that’s it.” His housekeeper, who now comes twice a week instead of five days, got tested, too.

Fisher Island paid for the tests that had been purchased by the University of Miami health clinic, Sissy DeMaria Koehne, a spokeswoman for the island, said in a statement. More than half of the residents are older than 60 and “at high risk,” the statement said.

The 1,800 tests, made by BioMedomics Inc., cost $17 each, DeMaria Koehne said. Testing began April 6, and 1,250 people have been tested so far.

She added that a Fisher Island resident has also now committed $200,000 to the Rabinowitz Charitable Foundation to provide blood-prick antibody testing “for hard-hit areas in Miami.”

Florida state health data lists five to nine cases of COVID-19 in Fisher Island’s ZIP code.

The tests were first reported by The Miami Herald.

News that residents of Fisher Island were being offered the tests was not well-received by some local leaders.

“I cannot reconcile the shoeless, mask-less, hungry children we fed today with this headline,” Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, wrote on Twitter with a link to The Herald’s story. The school district has distributed hundreds of thousands of meals to needy students stuck studying at home.

Florida mayors have had to scramble and ask the state for help to set up nasal-swab diagnostic testing sites that continue to draw long lines of patients.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for widespread antibody testing across the state as well.

“The general thought is you develop some sort of immunity to being infected in the future. They’re not 100% sure on that, but I think that’s the general consensus on that,” DeSantis said at a news conference Friday. “So I think having wide antibody testing will be something that’s very, very important in Florida, and we’re working as hard as we can to roll that out.

“And then you can also spot-check a representative sample to see how many people in our society have the antibodies,” he said.

Medical laboratories across the state are slowly rolling out the tests.

The office of Mayor Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade County said that the Fisher Island tests were separate from the antibody tests paid for by the county and administered by University of Miami researchers as part of a coronavirus surveillance testing program. That effort is limited to a random sample of 750 people a week.

In a statement Tuesday, the University of Miami acknowledged that providing the tests to Fisher Island, though in accordance with its health system’s clinical standards, “may have created the impression that certain communities would receive preferential treatment.”

“That was not our intent,” the university said through Lisa Worley, a spokeswoman. She said one of the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Miami-Dade County was on Fisher Island. The university also took into consideration that more than half of the population on the island is over age 60, and many residents had recently returned from the Northeast, where there were a high number of coronavirus cases.


“These factors, at the time, were taken into consideration when the request was received,” she said. “The health system is revising its process for reviewing testing outreach requests to ensure it meets our mission as we work on the front lines to manage this pandemic for the South Florida community.”

The ski resort town of Telluride, Colorado, also tried to offer antibody tests donated by two wealthy biotech executives to residents but ran into logistical trouble processing the results from the company’s test lab in hard-hit New York.

In Fisher Island, Azoulay praised the effort, along with the social distancing measures enforced by the island. A small, isolated population lends itself to surveillance testing, he said. And residents have been happy to contribute to funds to pay not only for the tests but also for furloughed island workers.

“This is a community,” he said. “So we’re all working hard to make sure that we help each other.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times .


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