Since the start of the pandemic, health experts have explored the potentially major role of asymptomatic carriers in COVID-19 outbreaks. It’s been one of the great mysteries about the coronavirus, as it’s something that hasn’t been tracked thoroughly with other respiratory illnesses.
Evidence suggests nearly half of all COVID-19 cases may be without symptoms. Plus, those who never get symptoms, especially kids, may have the potential to spread it just as readily as infected people with symptoms. This highlights the need to track, test and isolate everyone who’s been exposed to the disease early and often.
Despite all of that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention altered its testing guidelines earlier this week, stating that people who don’t have COVID-19 symptoms don’t need to get tested ― even if they were possibly exposed to someone with the illness. The CDC director later clarified that those individuals “may be considered” for testing.
Health experts say it’ll be a huge challenge to get a handle on COVID-19 if we don’t even know who has it. Even people without symptoms can (and will) greatly influence the future of the pandemic.
Though many of our questions regarding asymptomatic transmission remain unanswered, scientists have collected a number of new insights in the last couple of months that have helped paint a clearer picture of what’s going on with infected people who never develop any symptoms.
Here are a few things we now know about asymptomatic carriers:
Asymptomatic cases are probably everywhere — but we don’t have exact figures yet
A study came out in June showing that about 40% of infected people who were tested for COVID-19 in a small Italian town had zero symptoms. In Boston, clinicians tested a group of people who were homeless and living in an inn and found that all 146 individuals who tested positive didn’t have symptoms.
Furthermore, contract-tracing efforts in Washington, D.C., recently...