The Grapevine

US Failed To Detect Over 8.7 Million Coronavirus Cases In March, Study Says

Latest figures from Johns Hopkins University show that the U.S. has more than 2.38 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. But a new study suggests that the reported infections are far lower than the actual number of people that contracted the novel coronavirus. 

Researchers said that the virus infected more than 8.7 million people in March alone. At that time, the government recorded only nearly 100,000 new cases, New York Post reported Tuesday

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, used surveillance data on influenza-like illnesses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We analyzed each state’s (influenza-like illness) cases to estimate the number that could not be attributed to influenza and were in excess of seasonal baseline levels,” Justin Silverman, assistant professor at Penn State University, said in a statement. “When you subtract these out, you’re left with what we’re calling excess ILI – cases that can’t be explained by either influenza or the typical seasonal variation of respiratory pathogens.” 

The team then found a link between those excess numbers and the rising cases of COVID-19 across the country. In March, they estimated that more than 80 percent of the actual infections remained unidentified.

“This suggests that ILI data is capturing COVID cases, and there appears to be a much greater undiagnosed population than originally thought,” Silverman said. “At first I couldn’t believe our estimates were correct. But we realized that deaths across the U.S. had been doubling every three days and that our estimate of the infection rate was consistent with three-day doubling since the first observed case was reported in Washington state on January 15.”

The official cases of COVID-19 went closer to or even higher than the team’s estimates when states started their coronavirus testing efforts. For example, in New York, the researchers said 9 percent of the population contracted the disease by the end of March. 

Following a large scale antibody testing, state officials found a 13.9 percent infection rate. That covered 2.7 million people living across New York. 

The researchers suggested that public health officials and those responding to the COVID-19 pandemic should look at the disease differently. They said its overwhelming effects may have less to do with the disease’s lethality.

The novel coronavirus has a low fatality rate. But Silverman said its rapid growth “provides an alternative explanation of the large number of deaths and overcrowding of hospitals.”

Coronavirus COVID-19 New York, USA A worker uses a forklift to move a body outside of the Brooklyn Hospital on March 31, 2020 in New York, United States. Due to a surge in deaths caused by the Coronavirus, hospitals are using refrigerator trucks as make shift morgues. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

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