Faithfuls wearing protective masks attend the blessing of Pope Francis standing at the window overlooking St. Peter's Square in the Vatican on August 2, 2020 during the Sunday Angelus prayer. (Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)
Vatican employees and workers who have contact with the public are being tested for the antibodies for COVID-19, said the new director of the Vatican department of health and hygiene.
"For now, the study has had good results in that no one has been shown to be a carrier of the antibodies," Andrea Arcangeli told the Vatican newspaper in an interview published Aug. 3.
People being tested included Vatican police, members of the Swiss Guard, staff at the Vatican Museums and in the Vatican's warehouses and shops, said Arcangeli, a medical doctor who started his new position in August after serving the department since 1999. He was on the medical team offering emergency care for St. John Paul II in the few months before his death in 2005.
When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in Italy, the Vatican named Arcangeli to be its special commissioner to help handle the city-state's emergency response.
Following what other countries were doing, he said, starting in March, the Vatican also stopped all routine medical services at its health clinic, which serves Vatican residents, employees and retirees, and focused all its efforts on urgent care.
People who suspected they had symptoms of COVID-19 were advised to not use the health clinic, but to go instead to a special mobile medical unit that had been set up exclusively for COVID-19 testing to help reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, he said.
"Fortunately, we did not see many patients suffering from COVID-19," he said.
Their first positive case was confirmed by the Vatican March 6. It was a priest from Bergamo who had first gone to the health clinic for a routine pre-employment exam and later tested positive, leading the clinic to temporarily close for special cleaning and to order a preventative quarantine for those who had come into contact with the priest at the Vatican.
Arcangeli said the other cases of Vatican employees and residents who tested positive for the coronavirus were all handled by Italian hospitals because the Vatican health clinic is not a hospital and offers only general and specialized tests and outpatient care.
But the health service did do blanket testing of Vatican employees and residents who would have been in contact with the people found to be positive, he added.
The Vatican has said it registered 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees and residents, regardless of where they were tested. All 12 tested negative by early June.
"Right now, we are doing specific antibody tests on all personnel that are in direct contact with the public," he said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibodies develop between one to three weeks after infection by the novel coronavirus, but current studies are still looking into how long people carry the antibodies, which, in some lab tests, have been present at least three months after infection.
Arcangeli said they are ready for any eventual resurgence in the fall. There is a greater understanding about the disease "and, therefore, all the doctors are more prepared," he said.
The clinic can help people who suspect they might be infected but it will continue to refer people who test positive to local Italian hospitals for care, he said.