Preventing asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission

As weeks of social distancing wear on, many are feeling the urge to get back to their normal routines. And for those who don’t feel sick, it might be tempting to relax that rules a bit. But public health experts say that’s the worst thing we can do right now, as it is now estimated that up to 25 percent of COVID-19 cases are the result of asymptomatic transmission.

This issue highlights the heart of why the COVID-19 pandemic has been so hard to contain. Even though many people feel fine—and in fact, have no idea they might be ill—they are still capable of transmitting the virus to others. In addition, the virus has a long incubation period so symptoms might not appear for up to two weeks, meaning people can spread the disease without actually knowing they’re sick.

The CDC estimates that coronavirus can be picked up by a conventional test around one to two days before symptoms appear. This means people may have enough of the virus in their bodies to be detected by lab tests, but they might not feel sick yet. But with testing in the United States currently mostly reserved for those who are already sick, there’s no way to know if you’re one of these asymptomatic carriers.

The discovery of asymptomatic transmission means it’s even more vital we maintain the CDC’s social distancing guidelines for the time being so as not to expose others to a virus we may be carrying. Social distancing can feel like an inconvenience, but it’s the most effective method we have to protect our family, friends, and neighbors who may be vulnerable, and it’s essential to slow down the spread of COVID-19. We all need to follow the social distancing recommendations in our community, whether we’re in one of the high-risk groups or not. Social distancing only works if we all participate. Slowing down or preventing the spread of the virus will save lives.