13.9% of people surveyed in New York tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies—a whopping 10 times higher than the state’s presumed infection rate, but still far from what would be considered herd immunity from the pandemic.
Herd immunity happens when over 60% of the population develops immunity—antibodies—to a disease, a phenomenon that usually occurs when a population is vaccinated against a virus.
In the new study cited by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on 3,000 people across the state, 13.9% exhibited COVID-19 antibodies (21% in New York City), implying that 2.7 million people across the state had been exposed to COVID-19, according to Bloomberg, 10-times higher than the presumed infection rate.
Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead at preventative health clinic Forward, told Forbes he’s skeptical about the antibody tests, and cautions against opening up the country to reach herd immunity, saying that would require infecting four-times the amount of people who’ve had the virus—all over the country—leading to a much higher number of deaths by possibly overwhelming hospital resources.
It is unclear whether, and for how long, those with COVID-19 antibodies are immune to second-time infection, as the CDC says survivor immunity is “not yet understood.”
Further, the validity of antibody tests have been widely criticized, as many on the market are not approved by the FDA.
Favini also thinks that more information about how the study was conducted is needed to accept and understand these numbers.
“For people who want to argue that we should just open up the county and let everyone get coronavirus so we can get to herd immunity: You’d have to go through all the cases and all the deaths that New York has experienced—you’d have to go through four-times that, all around the country,” said Favini.
It may be that COVID-19 is much more common than we initially thought, though this is contested. On Thursday, a new model out of Northeastern University, as reported by New York Times, shows that cities with major COVID-19 outbreaks could’ve had 28,000 cases on March 1, which is contrary to the popular model that showed only 23 cases by this time in the major cities. As of April 22, it also appears that the first COVID-19 death was in California on February 6, rather than February 29 in Washington.
I’m the Under 30 Editorial Community Lead at Forbes. Previously, I directed marketing at a mobile app startup. I’ve also worked at The New York Times and New York Observer. I attended the University of Pennsylvania where I studied English and creative writing. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @iamsternlicht.
The infection rate of the coronavirus in New York is slowing, but the state could soon see the full scope of the virus as it begins antibody testing this week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says antibody testing will help provide the “first true snapshot” of how much of a hold COVID-19 has on the state. On Sunday, the governor toured a testing lab on Long Island, using it as a launching pad for the state’s newest drive toward understanding and defeating the coronavirus. “We’re going to sample people in this state… to find out if they have the [antibodies] that will help us for the first time, what percentage of the population actually has had the coronavirus, and is now at least short term immune to the virus,” the governor said.
It was four days into her suspected COVID-19 infection that Olivia Haynes realized she couldn’t smell or taste anything.
Her dry cough and fever had briefly subsided and her appetite had returned, so she cooked herself a spaghetti bologna. A self-described foodie, she initially thought she had just done a bad job because the food was so bland. “Honestly, it took me like three meals to realize I have no taste and no smell,” she told TIME on Tuesday over the phone from her home in London, where she is self-isolating. “People hadn’t been talking about it [as a symptom], so I wasn’t looking out for it.”
As more and more people around the world are becoming infected by the new coronavirus, there has been a spike in people reporting a loss of smell, and by extension taste, according to doctors. “In the last 48 hours, or perhaps 72, we have heard from about 500 patients who have lost their sense of smell,” says Dr. Nirmal Kumar, the president of ENTUK, a group of British ear, nose and throat specialists. Normally, Kumar says, a busy surgery like his would receive perhaps one report of lost smell or taste per month. Now, he is seeing far more. “It was never as frequent as it is now,” he says. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Kumar is not alone. In South Korea, where testing for COVID-19 is widespread, some 30% of patients with mild symptoms have reported anosmia, the technical term for a loss of sense of smell. Doctors from China, the U.S., Iran, Italy and Germany—all places with significant outbreaks of COVID-19—have also noted a rise in reports of anosmia connected to confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a letter issued on Friday by ENTUK and the British Rhinological Society. The letter, signed by Kumar and sent to public health authorities, urged doctors treating people with anosmia to don personal protective equipment while treating them.
The symptom, Kumar says, is also appearing in otherwise healthy people, indicating that a loss of sense of smell could be a vital indicator of whether somebody is carrying the virus unknowingly—especially in the U.K., where tests for the virus are only available in hospitals for the most serious of cases, leaving many people with mild symptoms unsure of whether they are infected by the coronavirus or the common flu. “Many patients reporting this have mild [COVID-19] symptoms, sometimes a little bit of cough and sometimes a fever, but there are patients who are not reporting any other symptoms,” he says. “It is a dramatic indicator. In my practice, patients all around me are reporting this. Therefore, there are lots of carriers around.”
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Kumar and other doctors are urging authorities globally to add a loss of sense of smell to the list of symptoms that would trigger stay-at-home requirements. “I feel that we need to add this to the self isolation rules, because these young fit people are spreading it around,” he says.
While there are no scientific studies yet on the link between COVID-19 and anosmia, Kumar speculates that the dulling effect is caused by the virus interfering with the mucous membrane in the roof of each nasal cavity in the nose, where the smell receptors are. “It is obviously speculation at the moment,” Kumar says. “But these viruses, which are obviously very, very small particles, go into the roof of the nose. And that’s where they affect the sense of smell receptors, which are very delicate organs.”
Many people who have lost their sense of smell initially turned to Twitter for answers, especially ones who had no other symptoms of COVID-19. One of them was a school teacher named Robert, from the north of England, who was eating candy over the weekend when he realized he couldn’t taste or smell anything.
Robert, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, went to work on Monday, not knowing his loss of smell could indicate COVID-19. (He had no other symptoms.) Although schools in the U.K. are now closed for most children, he still had to supervise a small class of children of essential workers, like doctors and nurses. “I didn’t even think it could be related,” he says.
Unable to get a coronavirus test due to the U.K.’s testing limitations, Robert turned to Twitter on Monday night. In an ideal situation, no one should have to rely on social media for medical advice, but given how fast this pandemic is moving and how much is still unknown about the coronavirus, many feel they have no other recourse. On Twitter, where manypeople—including celebrities and U.K. health minister Nadine Dorries (who tested positive for the virus)—have posted about losing their sense of smell, Robert read that there could be a link between his symptoms and COVID-19. He immediately decided to self-isolate and tell his employer.
In London, still struggling with bad symptoms after 10 days of infection, Haynes is trying to motivate herself to eat without a sense of taste. “If you’re not hungry anyway and you’re trying to force something down, it’s really grim,” she says. “Especially when you just want some comfort.”
The rapid spread of the coronavirus and the illness it causes called COVID-19 has sparked alarm worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency, and many countries are grappling with a rise in confirmed cases. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising people to be prepared for disruptions to daily life that will be necessary if the coronavirus spreads within communities.
Below, we’re responding to a number of questions about COVID-19 raised by Harvard Health Blog readers. We hope to add further questions and update answers as reliable information becomes available.
Yes, the virus can spread from one person to another, most likely through droplets of saliva or mucus carried in the air for up to six feet or so when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Viral particles may be breathed in, land on surfaces that people touch, or be transferred when shaking hands or sharing a drink with someone who has the virus.
Often it’s obvious if a person is ill, but there are cases where people who do not feel sick have the virus and can spread it.
Quarantines and travel restrictions now in place in many counties, including the US, are also intended to help break the chain of transmission. Public health authorities like the CDC may recommend other approaches for people who may have been exposed to the virus, including isolation at home and symptom monitoring for a period of time (usually 14 days), depending on level of risk for exposure. The CDC has guidelines for people who have the virus to help with recovery and prevent others from getting sick.
What is the incubation period for the coronavirus?
An incubation period is the time between being exposed to a germ and having symptoms of the illness. Current estimates suggest that symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear around five days on average, but the incubation period may be as short as two days to as long as 14 days.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
Fever, dry cough, and trouble breathing are the common symptoms of COVID-19. There have been some reports of gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) before respiratory symptoms occur, but this is largely a respiratory virus.
Those who have the virus may have no obvious symptoms (be asymptomatic) or symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In some cases, the virus can cause pneumonia and potentially be life-threatening.
Most people who get sick will recover from COVID-19. Recovery time varies and, for people who are not severely ill, may be similar to the aftermath of a flulike illness. People with mild symptoms may recover within a few days. People who have pneumonia may take longer to recover (days to weeks). In cases of severe, life-threatening illness, it may take months for a person to recover, or the person may die.
Can people who are asymptomatic spread coronavirus?
A person who is asymptomatic may be shedding the virus and could make others ill. How often asymptomatic transmission is occurring is unclear.
Can the coronavirus live on soft surfaces like fabric or carpet? What about hard surfaces?
How long the new coronavirus can live on a soft surface — and more importantly, how easy or hard it is to spread this way — isn’t clear yet. So far, available evidence suggests it can be transmitted less easily from soft surfaces than frequently-touched hard surfaces, such as a doorknob or elevator button.
According to the WHO, coronaviruses may survive on surfaces for just a few hours or several days, although many factors will influence this, including surface material and weather.
That’s why personal preventive steps like frequently washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and wiping down often-touched surfaces with disinfectants or a household cleaning spray, are a good idea.
Should I wear a face mask to protect against coronavirus? Should my children?
Follow public health recommendations where you live. Currently, face masks are not recommended for the general public in the US. The risk of catching the virus in the US is low overall, but will depend on community transmission, which is higher in some regions than in others. Even though there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, most people are more likely to catch and spread influenza (the flu). (So far this season, there have been nearly 30 million cases of flu and 17,000 deaths.)
Some health facilities require people to wear a mask under certain circumstances, such as if they have traveled from areas where coronavirus is spreading, or have been in contact with people who did or with people who have confirmed coronavirus.
If you have respiratory symptoms like coughing or sneezing, experts recommend wearing a mask to protect others. This may help contain droplets containing any type of virus, including the flu, and protect close contacts (anyone within three to six feet of the infected person).
Should someone who is immunocompromised wear a mask?
If you are immunocompromised because of an illness or treatment, talk to your doctor about whether wearing a mask is helpful for you in some situations. Advice could vary depending on your medical history and where you live. Many people will not need to wear a mask, but if your healthcare provider recommends wearing one in public areas because you have a particularly vulnerable immune system or for other reasons, follow that advice.
Should I accept packages from China?
There is no reason to suspect that packages from China harbor COVID-19. Remember, this is a respiratory virus similar to the flu. We don’t stop receiving packages from China during their flu season. We should follow that same logic for this novel pathogen.
Can I catch the coronavirus by eating food prepared by others?
We are still learning about transmission of COVID-19. It’s not clear if this is possible, but if so it would be more likely to be the exception than the rule. That said, COVID-19 and other coronaviruses have been detected in the stool of certain patients, so we currently cannot rule out the possibility of occasional transmission from infected food handlers. The virus would likely be killed by cooking the food.
Should I travel on a plane with my children?
Keep abreast of travel advisories from regulatory agencies and understand that this is a rapidly changing situation. The CDC has several levels of travel restrictions depending on risk in various countries and communities.
Of course, if anyone has a fever and respiratory symptoms, that person should not fly if at all possible. Anyone who has a fever and respiratory symptoms and flies anyway should wear a mask on an airplane.
Is there a vaccine available for coronavirus?
No vaccine is available, although scientists are working on vaccines. In 2003, scientists tried to develop a vaccine to prevent SARS but the epidemic ended before the vaccine could enter clinical trials.
Is there a treatment available for coronavirus?
Currently there is no specific antiviral treatment for this new coronavirus. Treatment is therefore supportive, which means giving fluids, medicine to reduce fever, and, in severe cases, supplemental oxygen. People who become critically ill from COVID-19 may need a respirator to help them breathe. Bacterial infection can complicate this viral infection. Patients may require antibiotics in cases of bacterial pneumonia as well as COVID-19.
Antiviral treatments used for HIV and other compounds are being investigated.
There’s no evidence that supplements, such as vitamin C, or probiotics will help speed recovery.
How is this new coronavirus confirmed?
A specialized test must be done to confirm that a person has COVID-19. Most testing in the United States has been performed at the CDC. However, testing will become more available throughout the country in the coming weeks.
How deadly is this coronavirus?
We don’t yet know. However, signs suggest that many people may have had mild cases of the virus and recovered without special treatment.
The original information from China likely overestimated the risk of death from the virus. Right now it appears that the risk of very serious illness and death is less than it was for SARS and MERS. In terms of total deaths in the United States, influenza overwhelmingly causes more deaths today than COVID-19.
What should people do if they think they have coronavirus or their child does? Go to an urgent care clinic? Go to the ER?
If you have a health care provider or pediatrician, call them first for advice. In most parts of the US, it’s far more likely to be the flu or another viral illness.
If you do not have a doctor and you are concerned that you or your child may have coronavirus, contact your local board of health. They can direct you to the best place for evaluation and treatment in your area.
Only people with symptoms of severe respiratory illness should seek medical care in the ER. Severe symptoms are rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, high or very low temperatures, confusion, trouble breathing, severe dehydration. Call ahead to tell the ER that you are coming so they can be prepared for your arrival.
Can people who recover from the coronavirus still be carriers and therefore spread it?
People who get COVID-19 need to work with providers and public health authorities to determine when they are no longer contagious.
What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)? The World Health Organization declared the new #Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak a global health emergency in January 2020. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine are closely monitoring the spread of the virus and offering useful information on what the disease is and how to help prevent transmission. For more information, please visit the #JohnsHopkins Medicine coronavirus website. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/coron…