The number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. could be nearly eight times higher than current reported cases, according to a new model by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between Feb. 27 and Sept. 30, there were 6.8 confirmed COVID-19 infections, but when researchers adjusted for potential false-negative test results, incomplete reporting of cases and asymptomatic or mildly ill individuals who never got tested, they learned there may have actually been about 52.9 million infections.
That means only 13% of total infections were identified and reported, the team said in their paper published Nov. 25 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
In other words, about 84% of the U.S. population has yet to contract the coronavirus, “and thus most of the country remains at risk, despite already high rates of hospitalization,” the CDC researchers said.
“Improved estimates of SARS-CoV-2 infections, symptomatic illnesses, and hospitalizations over time, are critical to our understanding of the severity and burden of this new virus,” they added.
There are more than 12.9 million confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases and more than 263,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
So, if you account for all unreported cases the CDC team estimated, the actual case count as of Nov. 27 would stand at just over 103 million.
The estimates come as the U.S. marked its 24th day in a row with more than 100,000 new reported cases, CNN reported, and as hospitalizations hit a new high for the 17th consecutive day with more than 90,400 COVID-19 patients, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.2M tests, 125k cases, 90,481 current hospitalizations, and 1,319 deaths. 20 states/territories didn’t report; 10 did partial reports. pic.twitter.com/iMayaoCVGr
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) November 27, 2020
And now experts say Thanksgiving celebrations are likely to add to the already growing number of infections.
“In a week, more likely two weeks, we will see a surge upon a surge,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases professor at Vanderbilt University, told CNN. “We’re in for a tough time.”
“If we all got together, wore the masks and did the social distancing, we could bend this curve within two or three weeks,” Schaffner added. “We would actually see transmission go down even before we get to the vaccines.”
A separate CDC “ensemble forecast” that averaged 33 different model predictions estimates that about 60,000 more Americans could die from COVID-19 within the next three weeks.
One reason why the number of reported cases may be undercounted is because infected people may not always test positive due to timing of the test, nose swab quality and improper handling of patient samples, the CDC team said.
Other explanations behind the potential underreporting of cases include asymptomatic and mildly ill people that may have recovered before seeking medical care or getting tested, limited testing supplies and laboratory capacity and differing methods of reporting cases across healthcare settings.
The team said a July study that reviewed antibody tests in 10 U.S. cities from March 23 to May 12 compares to their estimates.
It found that for most regions, there were likely 10 times more coronavirus cases than official numbers reported.