The Corner

Science & Tech

Does Everyone Have COVID-19 Already?

A woman adjusts her mask while she waits in line as the city’s public-health unit holds a walk-in clinic testing for coronavirus in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, March 23, 2020. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

That’s more or less the question posed by a new Oxford study making the rounds, especially thanks to a Financial Times write-up. The study posits a scenario in which only 1 percent or even 0.1 percent of people are susceptible to falling severely ill from the virus. If there are 99 or 999 mild cases for every serious one, of course, a bigger share of the population has already had the virus than we previously thought. In the U.K., 40 or even 68 percent of the population might already be immune, per the study’s modeling.

But crucially, this is a possibility the paper sketches out, not an actual finding inferred from the data. As the study itself puts it, “Our overall approach rests on the assumption that only a very small proportion of the population is at risk of hospitalisable illness.” (Emphasis mine.)

Now, the paper does show that this assumption can be made to fit the observed death data. But as noted by Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, other, less rosy assumptions fit just fine as well:

Kucharski goes on to note that other sources of data on asymptomatic infections suggest far lower rates than the study posits. But to know for sure how many folks have had COVID-19 without knowing it, we need to randomly select lots of people and give them special “serology” tests that detect antibodies. The paper’s authors, in collaboration with other scientists, are planning to start doing that, and we’ll know the results soon.

I’d advise against getting carried away with this study in the meantime, but do keep your fingers crossed.

Most Popular

White House

Don’t Blame Fauci

The president’s relationship with Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has played a very public role in the country’s COVID-19 response, has gotten especially rocky. Fauci has expressed concerns about reopening and bluntly contradicted some of the ... Read More
White House

Don’t Blame Fauci

The president’s relationship with Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has played a very public role in the country’s COVID-19 response, has gotten especially rocky. Fauci has expressed concerns about reopening and bluntly contradicted some of the ... Read More
U.S.

Did the Times Print an Urban Legend?

This week, the Times brings us a story from Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. The headline is: "Texas Hospital Says Man, 30, Died After Attending a ‘Covid Party,’” and what we get is a story with one source. The story reveals itself in three paragraphs: A 30-year-old man who believed the coronavirus ... Read More
U.S.

Did the Times Print an Urban Legend?

This week, the Times brings us a story from Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. The headline is: "Texas Hospital Says Man, 30, Died After Attending a ‘Covid Party,’” and what we get is a story with one source. The story reveals itself in three paragraphs: A 30-year-old man who believed the coronavirus ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Wrong Governors

Pretend for a moment that you are a journalist with a strong leaning in favor of progressivism and the Democratic Party, and you wish to make the argument that Democratic governors are doing a great job of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. If you use the measuring stick of fewest cases per million ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Wrong Governors

Pretend for a moment that you are a journalist with a strong leaning in favor of progressivism and the Democratic Party, and you wish to make the argument that Democratic governors are doing a great job of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. If you use the measuring stick of fewest cases per million ... Read More