A new scientific study published at the start of this week strongly suggests the coronavirus may already be much more widespread in the US population than official tallies, though far less dangerous to most.
The LA Times reports on preliminary findings from a coronavirus study in Los Angeles County, which show a whopping 4.1% of adults have antibodies to the virus in their blood. The county is home to 10 million residents, meaning hundreds of thousands have likely been exposed, according to the study.
LA Times concludes of the study's high numbers: "That translates to roughly 221,000 to 442,000 adults who have recovered from an infection, once margin of error is taken into account, according to the researchers conducting the study. The county had reported fewer than 8,000 cases at that time."
Los Angeles County over the weekend suffered its deadliest single day, with COVID-19 killing 81 on Sunday, mostly among the elderly especially in nursing homes. As of Tuesday the county reported a total 13,816 cases and 617 deaths so far.
Though the study appears to confirm the already widely documented phenomenon of asymptomatic spreaders, it suggests this is present in the US to a much greater degree than known. One scientist concluded that among Californians the study results are “very consistent with the fact that the virus is very common but not killing at the rate we thought.”
But the study presents a possible upside as well:
The findings suggest the fatality rate may be much lower than previously thought. But although the virus may be more widespread, the infection rate still falls far short of herd immunity that, absent a vaccine, would be key to return to normal life.
On a national level this means America is likely well past 1 million infected in terms of actual numbers - though the official tally is fast closing in on 800,000 currently.
The University of Southern California and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health conducted antibody testing on 863 people for the new study.
It's findings are further consistent with a recent report produced by Stanford researchers, who believe coronavirus in Santa Clara County is also much more widespread than official figures.
The high rates of antibodies found among Californians “is very consistent with the fact that the virus is very common but not killing at the rate we thought,” Dr. Ioannidis said. It may not be as lethal as we believe. https://t.co/ifNnzBdBdp— Joshua Landis (@joshua_landis) April 22, 2020
The Stanford team estimated infections to range between 48,000 and 81,000, despite the county's low count of 1,000 nearer the start of this month.
This means real figures are most likely between 50 and 85 times higher, based on the presence of coronavirus antibodies. As of Monday Santa Clara health officials reported 1,922 total cases, including 83 deaths.