US coronavirus infection estimates leap higher as Washington nursing home warns of a “shocking escalation” of symptomatic patients suddenly dying
03/10/2020 // Franz Walker // Views

More Americans could potentially be exposed to -- or worse, infected with -- the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, suggests a new study.

Researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (CSMC) in Los Angeles revealed that as many as 9,400 people may have already been infected by the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 by March 1, 2020. This number is higher than previous estimates, and certainly much higher than the current number of confirmed and presumptive cases in the United States.

Higher number of cases than previously estimated

As of its March 9, 2020 update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the total number of confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. at 423. This number comes from actual cases reported to the CDC by local and federal authorities. The new study from CSMC, however, uses models to estimate the possible spread of the virus based on air traffic date between the U.S. and the region around Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus originates from. Travel from other regions with confirmed COVID-19 cases, such as South Korea, was not included.

Using their model, the researchers estimate the number of infected people in the U.S. to be between 1,043 and 9,484. The lower figure assumes that current preventive procedures, such as quarantines and screenings of international travelers, have reduced the transmissibility in unidentified cases by as much as 25 percent. On the other hand, the second figure assumes that no intervention procedures have been taken at all.


According to the researchers, the disparity between the two figures has important implications for controlling the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our model suggests that even moderately effective population interventions to reduce transmission can have a profound impact on the scale of the epidemic,” said senior author Dr. Dermot McGovern, a professor of medicine and biomedical sciences at Cedars-Sinai.

“This finding supports the role of public health interventions in controlling this disease.”

“Shocking” escalation – from no symptoms to death

Slowing down the infections, however, isn’t an easy task – as most COVID-19 cases are mild or even asymptomatic, making it hard to detect. This issue is something that has been confirmed by a disturbing update from health officials working to contain the virus at a nursing home in Washington state that’s considered ground zero for infections in that state.

According to the CDC, Washington state has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among all U.S. states. A number of those have come from the Life Care Center of Kirkland in King County. Of the 116 cases in the county, the majority are either patients or employees at the nursing home.

While a number of residents at the nursing home without symptoms remain, that doesn’t necessarily mean all is clear for them. Workers at the center have been shocked at the speed at which some patients have succumbed to the disease after symptoms manifested.

“It was surprising and shocking to us that we have seen that level of escalation from symptoms to death,” said Tim Killian, a spokesperson for Life Care.

Most vulnerable seem to be those who are elderly or recovering from illnesses, such as those residing in Life Care. It’s most likely that those who died had weaker immune systems and were, therefore, more susceptible to COVID-19. Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told ABC News that kids and adults -- those with stronger immune systems -- tend to do “extremely well in terms of recovery.”

While this does show some positives for adults and children, it still doesn’t take away from how fast an infection can escalate in those who are more vulnerable to it. Combined with the increased estimates from the CSMC in mind, testing will most likely have to be increased to prevent any further deaths. The issue now lies with the availability of testing kits. Even just the Life Care Center in Kirkland is already reporting a lack of testing kits for its residents and employees. Other states, such as California, are also reporting a lack of testing kits. Considering how testing has been influential in lowering the mortality rate in countries outside the U.S., this is something that the country’s health officials need to address soon.

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