Actual US coronavirus cases may be over 20 million, 10 times higher than official count: CDC

People of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19, warns new advisory

                            Actual US coronavirus cases may be over 20 million, 10 times higher than official count: CDC
(Getty Images)

More than 20 million Americans may have been infected with Covid-19, a number that is 10 times higher than the official number of cases reported that has crossed 2.4 million, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr Robert Redfield, CDC Director, said that only about 1 in every 10 Covid-19 cases in the US has been identified, implying that for every person who tests positive, another 10 cases have likely gone undiagnosed. “Our best estimate right now is that for every case that's reported, there actually are 10 other infections,” he said during a briefing with journalists, reports NBC News.  

The numbers indicate that many people with mild or no symptoms have or have had the disease. The new estimates are based on serology testing used to determine the presence of antibodies that show whether an individual has ever had Covid-19, as opposed to diagnostic tests, which detect current infections. Antibodies are specific proteins made in response to infections. Antibody test results are especially important for detecting previous infections in people who had few or no symptoms. According to the agency chief, for every confirmed case of Covid-19, 10 more people had antibodies. “The traditional approach of looking for symptomatic illness, and diagnoses obviously underestimated the total number of infections. Now that serology tests are available, the estimates we have right now show about 10 times more people have antibodies in the jurisdictions tested than had documented infections,” he said. 

Dr Redfield said that between 5% and 8% of Americans may have been infected to date. Stating that most Americans are still susceptible to the virus, he reiterated that people should maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet in public, wash hands frequently and wear a face covering. “This pandemic is not over. Greater than 90% of the American public hasn’t experienced this virus yet. The most powerful tool that we have is social distancing. If you must go out into the community, being in contact with fewer people is better than many,” he said.

The most powerful tool that Americans have against Covid-19 is social distancing, said CDC Director Robert Redfield (Getty Images)

As of June 26, over 2,422,090 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the US, and more than 124,400 have died in the Covid-19 pandemic. The CDC estimate comes as cases continue to soar across many states in the US such as Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. According to Reuters, US saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day with 39,818 reported on Thursday, June 25. “More than 36,000 new U.S. cases were recorded on Wednesday, a few hundred shy of the record 36,426 on April 24,” said the report. In response to the recent increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has temporarily halted additional reopening phases.  Businesses that are permitted to open under the previous phases can continue to operate at the designated occupancy levels and under the minimum standard health protocols provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services, said a statement.

“As we experience an increase in both positive Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families,” said Abbott. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses. This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business. I ask all Texans to do their part to slow the spread of Covid-19 by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly, and socially distancing from others. The more that we all follow these guidelines, the safer our state will be, and the more we can open up Texas for business,” he added. 

Risk for severe illness increases steadily with age

The CDC, meanwhile, has removed a specific age threshold on its guidance for who is at high risk of developing severe disease from Covid-19, suggesting that even younger people who are obese or have other underlying health conditions can become seriously ill if they get infected. “I’m asking people to recognize that we’re in a different situation today than we were in March, in April, where the virus was being disproportionately recognized in older individuals with significant comorbidities and was causing significant hospitalizations and deaths. Today we’re seeing more virus. It’s in younger individuals. Fewer of those individuals are requiring hospitalizations and having a fatal outcome. But that is not to minimize it,” said Dr Redfield. 


The updated guidance now says that people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from coronavirus. These conditions include chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from a solid organ transplant, obesity (body mass index of 30 or higher), serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies, sickle cell disease, and type 2 diabetes. Other conditions that ‘might’ put people at an increased risk for severe illness from coronavirus are asthma (moderate-to-severe), cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain), cystic fibrosis, hypertension or high blood pressure weakened immune system from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines. The list also includes neurologic conditions, such as dementia, liver disease, pregnancy, pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues), smoking, thalassemia (a type of blood disorder), and type 1 diabetes. 

The agency said that in general, a person’s risk of getting severely ill from Covid-19 increases steadily as they get older. An estimated 8 out of 10 Covid-19-related deaths reported in the US have been among adults aged 65 years and older. “Among adults, the risk for severe illness from Covid-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk. Severe illness means that the person with Covid-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe, or they may even die. Everyone, especially older adults and others at increased risk of severe illness, should take steps to protect themselves from getting Covid-19,” said the CDC.

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