Covid-19: Asymptomatic Vs. Presymptomatic On ‘Reopening America’

By Diana Brown

June 24, 2020

On this episode of Reopening America, host Oscar Ramirez of the Daily Dive podcast talks with Wired writer Greg Barber about the coronavirus. Recently, the World Health Organization caused some confusion when they stated that asymptomatic carriers of Covid were rare, and couldn’t actually spread the virus. This talking point was seized upon by many people and pundits in the nation, saying it was proof that it’s time to fully reopen the economy, stop worrying about wearing face masks, and quit social distancing unless you’re exhibiting symptoms. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case. It turns out there’s a fine distinction between asymptomatic carriers and presymptomatic carriers.

When WHO was talking about asymptomatic carriers, they were referring to people who have the coronavirus but never exhibit any symptoms throughout the course of the disease. That is what’s rare, Greg says. But presymptomatic carriers can and will spread the virus very easily. These are people who contract Covid-19, but a few days pass before they start to feel any symptoms. During the days they’re carrying the virus, they can absolutely spread it. They’re not coughing and sneezing all over the place, Greg says, but if they were, they’d likely stay home anyway. But because they aren’t feeling sick, they may go out to the store or a restaurant and spread the virus simply by talking or breathing. 

More than that, it appears that truly asymptomatic cases are as rare as WHO says – at least according to some preliminary studies. What’s more likely is that people get sick with Covid and exhibit mild or unexpected symptoms they don’t associate with Covid – stomach problems, for example. They may dismiss their symptoms as some other virus, the flu, or a simple cold. The main thing to remember is that this is a novel coronavirus – brand-new. We don’t know much about it yet, and new information is coming out all the time as scientists and epidemiologists work to understand how it spreads, how it manifests, and how completely we’re able to recover from it. It may be hard or annoying, but to do our part, we need to always act as if we have the virus and don’t realize it. Continuing to practice social distancing, staying home whenever possible, and wearing a face mask while we’re out and about, is the least we can do to help stop the spread. Listen to this episode of Reopening America for more on how presymptomatic and asymptomatic spreading works. 

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