CDC Chief Estimates 10 Undiagnosed Cases For Each Confirmed One


By Lena H. Sun 

The number of Americans who have been infected with the novel coronavirus is likely 10 times higher than the 2.3 million confirmed cases, according to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a call with reporters Thursday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said, “Our best estimate right now is that for every case that’s reported, there actually are 10 other infections.”

Redfield said the estimate is based on blood samples collected from across the country that look for the presence of antibodies to the virus. For every confirmed case of covid-19, 10 more people had antibodies, Redfield said.

Using that methodology would pushes the tally of U.S. cases to at least 23 million.

Redfield and another top official at the CDC said that young people are driving the surge in cases in the South and West. They attributed that to the broader testing of people under 50. “In the past, I just don’t think we diagnosed these infections,” he said.

He also estimated that 92 to 95 percent of the U.S. population is still susceptible to the virus.

Officials also broadened the list of people at increased risk of severe illness from covid-19. They removed the specific age threshold for older adults, saying that it’s not just those over 65 who are at increased risk, but that risk increases steadily with age.

And for the first time, agency officials also said pregnant women face higher risks of severe illness from the virus than nonpregnant women, including needing treatment in intensive care units and the use of ventilators. A CDC report released Thursday provides the most comprehensive information so far about the virus’s impact on pregnancy.

In addressing the surge in cases, Redfield acknowledged that the increases may make the map of the country look like “substantial portions of the United States are in red.”

In reality, he said, about 110 to 120 counties are “hot spots” with significant transmission, or about 3 percent of all U.S. counties.

“When you see that basically it looks like the whole state is red, I do think that can have a mixed message for the public health response,” he said.

Redfield denied he was downplaying the large increases in reported infections.

“This is a significant event,” he said. “We had a significant increase in cases …. we need to interrupt that.”

But he noted that in April, more than 1 in 4 deaths in the United States was in someone who died of complications related to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Now, that percentage is about 7 percent, he said. The death toll may still rise because of the time lag between illness and death.

“But we’re in a different situation today than we were in March and April where the virus was disproportionately being recognized in older adults,” he said.

The virus is affecting younger individuals, and fewer are hospitalized or dying. But he said he was “highly concerned” about “the complexity that we’re going to be facing in the fall” when both covid-19 and influenza are likely to be circulating.

“We’re not talking about a second wave right now, we’re still in the first wave,” he said. “That first wave is taking different shapes.”


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