"The data that we have and what we're showing is about 44% of our coronavirus is being transmitted by asymptomatic people," said Delaware internist Dr. Sandra Gibney. "This can occur up to five days before they develop symptoms."
On a special edition of Reopening Delaware on WDEL's Rick Jensen Show, Gibney said more people need to understand how they might be contributing to the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19 based on what has collectively been learned about the virus so far.
"There seems to be this kind of disconnect between people understanding that, for five days, they could be out and about shedding and have no symptoms whatsoever, and still test positive," she said. "That's been the unique feature of this virus...Yes, we're doing more testing and we're finding more people, and we're finding a lot of asymptomatic people as well, and identifying those folks helps us stop the spread because they may not have symptoms at all."
She reiterated that monitoring the hospitalizations associated with the virus gives medical experts a good sense of the level of severity at which the virus is operating.
"When they come into the hospital, a lot of folks hang on and they can live a period of time and go home and do just fine," she said. "But some are there for two, three weeks before they passed or perished. Knowing who goes to the hospital because they don't feel well enough to be able to stay at home, that gives us an indication of not only the severity of the disease but also the virulence in the particular viral particles that we're dealing with...That's why these folks that are going into a closed space for a long period of time with an asymptomatic carrier can be in trouble, like we've had with young folks that went down and partied and whatnot at the beach, or people that got together in a small, closed space."
Increased testing is going to let medical and scientific experts better track how the virus is moving, how its effects on others is varying to any degree, and keep an eye out for any mutations occurring leading into the "next round" of the virus--which, Gibney notes, hasn't happened yet.
"As we get people coming through for tests, crunching that data and looking at it is going to inform us better going forward, like in November, to the next round. Unfortunately we're still on this round," she said. "I will tell you that hospitalizations are down. People are dying less. The virus is running out of steam for that really aggressive type of illness, but it's not stopped. So what we're seeing now is this asymptomatic carrier phase where young folks are testing positive, but not necessarily being as sick as everyone was when we first got this, when the virus was really strong."
COVID-19 takes about 1,000 virus particles to create a successful infection, and Gibney said, for context, a single sneeze or cough can create 200 million viral particles. That's why places like churches remain dangerous, particularly for vulnerable population. Gibney pointed to a recent case where 60 individuals spent two hours grouped together in a church and, even with social distancing, 45 would later test positive for COVID-19 within four days.
She said pool testing is helping in this current phase, especially with groups of young adults spending time, for instance in a beach house together. Samples are taken from everybody and placed into a group sample, which is then tested for COVID-19. If the sample is positive, then every person is tested individually. If it returns a negative, everyone goes about their life.
"We're not going to quarantine everybody without testing, and what they would do is, if we got a positive slurry, then guess what, we're going to have to go back and test everyone in the slurry," she said. "It may give us an opportunity to save a lot of other testing for people that are just worried."