How many Americans have coronavirus? It’s impossible to know

After having been sick all week, German-American former supermodel and now TV presenter Heidi Klum decided she wanted to get tested for the coronavirus. “I hope its just a cold, I would love to do the corona test but there just isn’t one here. I’ve tried with two different doctors and I just can’t get one”, said Heidi Klum in a video she published from her bed on her Instagram.

And the celebrity’s case is far from isolated. Take the story of Sergey M., a scientist from San Diego: “My lab has been investigating two possible exposure cases. I woke up this morning with a strong cough and just to be safe decided to get tested since our mother-in-law is visiting and is in the risk group due to age”, he wrote on his Facebook page.
“I spent 45 minutes on the phone with 3 urgent care providers and my primary care physician. Finally, they said that there is no sample collection anywhere except for emergency rooms.”

“They proceed to admit me to the ER room, I get a dedicated bed. The nurse runs around saying – ‘I don’t even know why I am here. I don’t have a mask’.”

“The doctor walks in, hears me out and checks me over and says that even though he understands why I am here there is no chance that I have COVID-19. I get discharged and will be charged for a full-blown ER visit, which will cost me 100-200$ post insurance.”

“Anyone who wants a test can get a test”, President Donald Trump said during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week but until now this has clearly not been the case. Until recently, according to rules established by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, only Americans who had been abroad were allowed to get tested. Now these rules have been relaxed.

The fact is that the coronavirus test isn’t simple and the kits detecting the coronavirus are configured more for a research lab and can’t be run in a doctor’s office. It takes four to six hours to perform the tests on patient samples.

Now doctors across the US have been told to rely on their own medical judgment and “work with local health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories”. The problem is that those labs have a limited capacity to test, and some have been forced to turn down doctors’ requests.

Right now the US, according to World Health Organization data, has almost 3,000 cases of coronavirus infections. Due the difficulties of obtaining tests and the fact that nearly 80% of the infected people display only moderate symptoms, it is impossible to know exactly how many coronavirus cases there are in reality. This has lead Marty Makary, Professor of Public Health, at Johns Hopkins University, to say: “We have between 50,000 and half a million cases in the United States right now.”

“Don’t believe the numbers that you see, even on our Johns Hopkins website.”

“There are probably 25 to 50 people who have the virus for every one person who is confirmed”, said Dr Makary on an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Stefano Di Lorenzo

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