Estimation of COVID-19 Prevalence from Serology Tests: A Partial Identification Approach
36 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2020 Last revised: 7 Jul 2020
Date Written: July 2, 2020
We propose a partial identification method for estimating disease prevalence from serology studies. Our data are results from antibody tests in some population sample, where the test parameters, such as the true/false positive rates, are unknown. Our method scans the entire parameter space, and rejects parameter values using the joint data density as the test statistic. The proposed method is conservative for marginal inference, in general, but its key advantage over more standard approaches is that it is valid in ﬁnite samples even when the underlying model is not point identified. Moreover, our method requires only independence of serology test results, and does not rely on asymptotic arguments, normality assumptions, or other approximations. We use recent Covid-19 serology studies in the US, and show that the parameter confidence set is generally wide, and cannot support deﬁnite conclusions. Specifically, recent serology studies from California suggest a prevalence anywhere in the range 0%-2% (at the time of study), and are therefore inconclusive. However, this range could be narrowed down to 0.7%-1.5% if the actual false positive rate of the antibody test was indeed near its empirical estimate (∼0.5%). In another study from New York state, Covid-19 prevalence is confidently estimated in the range 13%-17% in mid-April of 2020, which also suggests significant geographic variation in Covid-19 exposure across the US. Combining all datasets yields a 5%-8% prevalence range. Our results overall suggest that serology testing on a massive scale can give crucial information for future policy design, even when such tests are imperfect and their parameters unknown.
Keywords: partial identification; disease prevalence; serology tests; COVID-19
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