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New study finds that COVID-19 can spread even when rules are followed

Mask-wearing continues to be a key recommendation of local health officials. (Seattle-King County Public Health, Facebook)

A recent study involving COVID-19 and Marine recruits found that the virus still has the potential to spread even when people are following the rules. What does this mean for testing and our general approach? Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“It’s interesting because when we go into various businesses now, or doctor’s offices, or whatever, what do they do? They have you wait at the door, they come over and they take your temperature, and they ask you if you have any symptoms that would be consistent with having a coronavirus infection. But what this study demonstrated is that maybe that’s not really doing anything at all, doing temperature and COVID-19 symptom checks are really inadequate for spotting a coronavirus infection,” he said.

Because cases of COVID-19 can often be asymptomatic, the standard measures and tests were shown in the study with Marine recruits to not be as helpful in spotting cases.

“What they ended up finding was that they tested people at different times throughout the two week period, and they found that there was an increase in the spread of the infection irrespective of whether or not people had symptoms, based on whether they were assigned to a similar platoon, or whether they shared a room with someone who’s infected,” he said.

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“They actually saw a pretty impressive increase in the number of people who were getting infected because very few of them were actually symptomatic,” Cohen added. “And they found that there were actually six different strains of the virus. So the infection was spreading, irrespective of all the testing they were doing and looking for temperature increases and changes in symptoms.”

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In terms of how to proceed from here based on a study like this, Dr. Cohen says maintaining our current measures while continuing to learn and work toward a vaccine is the ideal approach.

“We’re going to have to focus on a combination of really good public health measures: temperature checks, which we’re doing but we don’t know if they’re going to be that effective; mask wearing, which we’re doing, but it’s probably the most effective thing; social distancing — it’s unclear how much that helps because these guys and girls were subject to really very strict social distancing; good hygiene, hand hygiene, and a vaccine that’s effective that we can actually get everybody to take, and some therapeutics are going to be what get us through this crisis.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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