Donald Trump administration officials have insisted that the coronavirus is mainly spread by victims who are already showing symptoms of the respiratory disease. These include Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who claimed recently that non-symptomatic people are “not the major driver” of the outbreak’s spread. But according to a new report by CNN, that claim appears to be untrue.
According to the outlet, at least six studies have shown that non-symptomatic carriers “are causing substantial amounts of infection,” including in one Massachusetts cluster with 82 victims.
“We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN.
Writing on February 28 in The New England Journal of Medicine, Bill Gates — the Microsoft founder and head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — said that “strong evidence” existed that coronavirus was transmitted by people with no symptoms or those who appeared only mildly sick.
According to Gates, “COVID-19 will be much harder to contain” than Middle East respiratory syndrome or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the latter of which infected 8,000 people worldwide in 2003 and killed 800. But those numbers have already been dwarfed by the coronavirus outbreak — which as of Saturday evening had infected more than 150,000 people and killed over 5,800.
Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University medical school also told CNN that asymptomatic people with the virus a “major factor” in the spread of the disease.
“They’re going to be the drivers of spread in the community,” Schaffner told the network.
Last Sunday, Trump came in contact with Fabio Wajngarten, communications director for Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro. Wajngarten exhibited no symptoms but tested positive for coronavirus just four days later.
But Trump on Saturday claimed that he had now been tested for the virus and that the results proved negative, according to a CNN report.
“One week after having dinner with the Brazilian delegation in Mar-a-Lago, the President remains symptom free,” White House physician Sean P. Conley said, in a statement quoted by CNN.
But even if Trump has not been infected with coronavirus, 2,795 Americans had tested positive and 57 had died, with the possibility of many more carriers who simply have not yet been tested, according to numbers as of Saturday evening. Many of those coronavirus carriers may also be showing no symptoms but could still be spreading the virus.