There have been several recent studies done throughout the country that point to the fact the majority of people who have been infected with COVID-19 have not had symptoms. For example, on the aircraft carrier the Theodore Roosevelt, there have been 840 cases and, of those, 60 percent were asymptomatic. This is concerning because the recommended practice issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been to only test individuals who actually have symptoms due to lack of testing availability.
Despite the number of cases being high, given the very real possibility of asymptomatic transmission being so prevalent, the numbers are probably much higher. There is concern that if asymptomatic individuals work in fields where they come into contact with large volumes of people, then they could be unknowingly transmitting the virus. Some professions that fall into this group include healthcare workers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers and individuals who work in warehouses/process plants. Experts say that these individuals, and others, who fall into the high-risk group, should be tested at least every five days.
According to the experts, across the country we’re doing about 200,000 tests per day and we need to increase this to at least million tests a day. We will know that testing is sufficient when there are fewer than 5 percent of the tests coming back positive. This requires a dramatic intensification in strategic planning and supply chain management, which is being worked toward. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved new polyester-based swabs that can be quickly manufactured domestically. Also, new testing platforms that can deliver results in 15 minutes have recently been approved.
These processes are designed to help improve the way in which we’re testing individuals who have symptoms, but what about the people who don’t have symptoms and aren’t currently sick? There is a different kind of test to see if a person was exposed to the virus and recovered. This is called an antibodies test and requires a blood sample, not a nose swab. The thought by many local and state leaders is that antibodies testing will help determine when it’s safe to start reopening the country since in theory it should give an indication of exactly how many have been exposed to the virus and how many are still at risk of contracting it.
According to scientists, this concept is slightly flawed. They cite that antibodies tests are often inaccurate. In addition, it’s not clear that even if a person has antibodies that they’re actually immune to the virus. These concerns prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue a statement on Friday encouraging countries to not use antibodies tests when making policy decisions. Even with these warnings in mind, many places have started to increase the amount antibodies testing that they’re doing. However, the goal isn’t to provide insight as to when the country should reopen, but to see just how widespread the virus is and the how it functions in the sense of what’s the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission.
A recent study done in New York state highlights some of these concerns. The study indicates that one in five people have had the virus, which means that four out of five people are at risk for contracting it if, and when, the state reopens. This demonstrates that we still have a long way to go before we reach herd immunity and the end of the pandemic. According to experts, 60 to 70 percent of the population would need to be immune to get to this point and, even then, the virus would continue to spread, just more slowly. In addition, if you take the numbers in New York and scale it across the country, it suggests that the death rate could be between 0.5 – 1 percent, which may not seem that bad, but when you put it into actual numbers, that means that there would be 2 million deaths.