The United States may never know the exact extent of its corona virus infection. New research shows that millions of infections were diagnosed in March, even increasing screenings.
The number of current cases in the country is about 2.24 million. But a study published Monday in the journal Science estimates that between March 8 and 28, there were 8.7 million cases of the coronavirus in the United States.
Official figures from the country show that there were about 100,000 infections during that period, which indicates that the actual outbreak is more than 80 times higher.
To arrive at this estimate, the researchers looked at reports of flu-like illnesses at the Centers for Disease Control for Influenza Surveillance and Disease Control.
The researchers believe that most of these cases were coronavirus cases that were diagnosed due to limited testing capacity or false-negative test results. They also estimate that only one-third of coronavirus patients in the United States seek medical attention in the first place, as many coronavirus cases are non-communicable or mild.
The study therefore found that the incidence of corona virus was three times higher than the incidence of flu-like illnesses: 8.7 million cases.
The results confirm long-standing suspicions among epidemiologists: According to current statistics, the corona virus is far more prevalent and less deadly.
About 5% of American coronavirus cases reported so far are fatal. The researchers found that an increase in undiagnosed cases in March could put the death rate between 0.07 and 1.4 percent. Recent estimates put the global mortality rate at about 1%.
US infections may double every 3 days from January to March
Previous models had predicted that the actual number of cases of the US corona virus could be anywhere from five to 20 times the current number. New research suggests that estimation is not far off.
By the end of March, researchers estimated, the United States had confirmed that less than 13 percent of “flu-like illnesses” this month had coronaviruses. Many of these diagnostic cases were in New York, the epicenter of the American epidemic.
Researchers estimate that as of March 28, more than 8% of New York’s population – or 1.6 million people – have been affected. (State antibody tests later indicated that as of March 29, about 14 percent of New York’s population, or 2.7 million people, had been infected.) But statistics at the time showed that only 0.3 percent of the state’s population, or 58, , 000 people were infected.
This means that New York may have failed to diagnose 2.6 million cases in March.
“At first I can’t believe our estimates are correct,” said Justin Silverman, an assistant professor at Penn State University who coordinated the study.
But researchers cited their model as an increase in coronavirus deaths in the United States. Using New York Times figures, they found that deaths were doubling every three days in March.
At the same rate, the number of coronavirus infections from a single infection in January increased by 8.7 million in March (it is believed that most cases do not require medical attention or have not been officially diagnosed).
By the third week of March, coronavirus infections had been identified as “flu-like illnesses,” according to the study, which peaked nationally. Since then, several states have seen a decline in the number of cases over the next week.
This could mean that increased screening or social distance measures worked – or that fewer people presented themselves to healthcare providers.
But infections continue to rise in New York and New Jersey.