Coronavirus: Asymptomatic cases could transform our understanding of covid-19

Coronavirus: Asymptomatic cases could transform our understanding of covid-19

 
  By Avi Selk with Angela Fritz source: The Washington Post coronavirus coverage The latest It’s called the novel coronavirus because we believed it was new to human experience, a brand-new pathogen totally alien to our immune systems, totally invulnerable to the defenses our bodies had built up against other diseases. But what if we were wrong?Scientists are asking themselves that question as they study one of the central mysteries of the pandemic: Why an estimated 40 percent of people infected with the virus never develop symptoms. “The theory that has generated the most excitement in recent weeks is that some people walking among us might already have partial immunity,” our science desk wrote. And it’s not just speculation: at least six research teams have found T cells that seem to recognize the coronavirus in blood samples drawn before covid-19 existed. Now they’re trying to figure out how that’s possible, including the fascinating prospect that old vaccines for other diseases, allergic reactions, or even a recent brush with the common cold might be protecting millions of people from disease’s worst effects. Read our story for much more.Protected or not, Americans are spreading the virus like wildfire. The country’s running total of reported infections has doubled in the past six weeks and hit 5 million Sunday. Especially alarming is a surge of nearly 100,000 reported infections among children in the last two weeks of July, as an extraordinarily chaotic school year starts to get rolling.New research suggests the virus affects children in drastically different ways depending on age. It can inflame the blood vessels of infants and preschoolers, stop the hearts of older children and may be especially contagious in toddlers with mild or moderate symptoms. “Several studies suggest adolescence could mark a turning point for how the virus affects youths — and their ability to spread the pathogen,” our science desk wrote. And yet another study found that Hispanic and Black children are several  times more likely than their White peers to be hospitalized with covid-19.So much remains unknown, but outbreaks are already being reported in some of the first U.S. schools to reopen. North Paulding High School in Georgia made headlines in the past week for a viral photo of maskless students jammed into hallways on the first day of class, which the superintendent initially defended as the children’s “personal choice.” The high school closed for a deep-cleaning Monday after six students and three staff members tested positive for the virus.Other important news:The outbreak has virtually destroyed the U.S. rideshare industry, with Uber and Lyft both reporting 75 percent fewer passengers.More than 130 brands of hand sanitizer, including some previous sold in Walmarts, are ineffective or unsafe, the Food and Drug Administration warned.People are shunning cash lest it carries the virus. “Health experts believe these concerns are overblown,” our Style desk wrote, “but anxiety has a way of compounding like interest.”   Live updates and more Track deaths and confirmed cases in the U.S. and across the world. Where states reopened and cases spiked.Post reporters are publishing live dispatches nearly 24 hours a day.Read the latest about what’s happening in the D.C. area. Submit a question and we may answer it in a future story or newsletter.   Your questions, answered “With college students returning to campuses across the country, are there increased dangers to local residents? Many of us would only come into contact with students in stores or places where everyone is wearing masks.”— Maureen in New YorkOnly time will tell if college towns are at increased risk as students return to campus in the fall, but the math that governs virus spread suggests that the mere existence of more people in a community will lead to more cases —or at least more opportunity for transmission. It will depend highly on whether the returning students adhere to guidelines on social distancing and masks, and the actions schools take when students test positive.Some colleges are dramatically reducing in-person classes to reduce opportunities for transmission, Post reporter Lauren Lumpkin reports. The number of students living on campus at the University of Maryland will be cut roughly in half this semester because 80 percent of classes will be conducted online, and the university has limited on-campus housing.For other schools, though, the pressure is on to bring all students back to campus. One private student housing company pushed contracted colleges to maintain dorm capacity, The Post’s Meryl Kornfield reported. Corvias Property Management wrote to the University System of Georgia and Detroit’s Wayne State University to remind the public school officials of their financial and legal burdens, saying that reducing the privatized college dorms’ capacity would hurt the bottom line of the partnership.Some schools are taking a hands-on approach to limiting the spread not only on campus but in the surrounding community. Georgetown University asked students to commit to a compact to follow public health guidelines — including logging symptoms daily, practicing good hygiene, and participating in coronavirus testing required by the university. And it’s providing free tests to students and employees who live or work on or near the campus.Lumpkin also spoke with some students who offered reassurance that they are just as concerned about outbreaks as their neighbors. “While I’ve been following social distancing guidelines in Houston, I understand traveling by air and coming from a hot spot for covid-19 cases necessitates a self-quarantine,” said Amy Patronella, an incoming senior at George Washington University. “It’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, and I would want others to follow the same guidelines if I were in the other position.”

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