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US COVID-19 statistics challenged by multiple research: lethal virus is far more widespread in the country than previously thought

(People's Daily Online)    16:52, April 21, 2020

US COVID-19 statistics from Johns Hopkins. (April 21)

Despite having the most confirmed COVID-10 infections of any country, in fact, the number of confirmed cases might be severely underestimated, posing lurking threats to both the US and the world.

According to Johns Hopkins University statistics, as of April 20, the total of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide has reached 2,404,555, with the US accounting for 759,696 of the total. Despite a recent effort in the US to test more people, so far, only 3,882,002 tests have been conducted. This is an unsatisfactory number that hardly copes with the country's rampant pandemic situation.

Since there are still a large number of potential COVID-19 patients who are at large and have yet been tested, the official US COVID-19 statistics have been challenged by many medical experts. A recent study released by Stanford University medical researchers suggests the virus was 50 to 85 times more common than official tallies indicated.

The new study, which hasn't yet been peer-reviewed, tested 3,300 residents of Santa Clara County for antibodies that would indicate whether or not they have been infected. The researchers believe that the actual proportion of the population that has been infected with the new coronavirus is somewhere between 2.5 percent and 4.2 percent, which means the actual number of people infected in Santa Clara Country could be anywhere from 48,000 to 80,640.

"The population prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Santa Clara County implies that the infection rate is much more widespread than indicated by the number of confirmed cases," the study concludes.

Unreliable numbers

Report from the Atlantic. 

Stanford's research has only unveiled the tip of this looming iceberg pertaining to infection statistics in the US Since the outbreak started in the country, an overwhelming body of evidence and research have indicated that official US numbers are below the actual amount by far.

On April 16, the Atlantic launched its own COVID Tracking Project, which is a state-by-state tally conducted by more than 100 volunteers and experts. According to the tracking project's figures, nearly one in five people who get tested for COVID-19 in the US are found to have already contracted the virus. In other words, the country has what is called a "test-positivity rate" of nearly 20 percent.

The project then concluded that such a high test-positivity rate almost certainly means that the US is not testing everyone who has been infected with the pathogen, as countries that test broadly should encounter far more people who did not get infected than people who are, so their test-positivity rate should be lower.

According to the Atlantic, even though the US did almost 25 times as many tests during April as they did by March 15, both the daily positive rate and the overall positive rate went up in that month. If the outbreak were indeed under control, then more testing should yield a smaller and smaller proportion of positives. So far, that hasn't happened.

A team from the University of Chicago, which has done mapping confirming COVID-19 infections per country with adjustments for population sizes, has also achieved similar results. The researchers noted that state-level data in the US may be overlooking hotspots in less populated areas. At the same time, significant clusters in parts of Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi have been found. Even though the involved populations may be smaller than those of New York or Seattle, they could be disproportionally hit by the disease.

Disaster or delinquency

According to the Atlantic, the positive testing rate in the US is a decent proxy for the severity of the country's outbreak, and it shows clearly that the US still lags far behind other countries in the course of fighting such a lethal pandemic.

In a lengthy investigative report released by Washington Post in April, researchers and experts blamed the US government's dysfunction and political denial of the virus, despite constant warnings from China and other nations, while a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass-produced and distributed across the country is believed to be a major factor of why US' statistics are unreliable, as many patients are not allowed to be tested.

Due to the lack of test kits and essential medical equipment, a large number of infected people who aren't showing symptoms may be hard to test. Also, as ProPublica first reported, there has been a spike in the number of Americans dying at home across the US. Those people may die of COVID-19 without ever entering the medical systems, meaning that they never get tested.

The Atlantic also noted that local rationing rules are not the only reason that Americans are not getting tested. Some people live in a place that's not doing much testing at all, either because doctors' offices have no tests to offer or because of an already strained or nonexistent local health-care system.

"It may never be known how many thousands of deaths, or millions of infections, might have been prevented with a response that was more coherent, urgent and effective. But even now, there are many indications that the administration's handling of the crisis had potentially devastating consequences," the Washington Post noted. 

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(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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