US eases Covid-19 restrictions amid data showing most cases go undetected

By Jorge Dastis

Washington, Aug 17 (EFE).- Health officials in the United States are continuing to ease Covid-19 restrictions even as a growing body of scientific data indicates a large number of cases go undetected and may be fueling the rise of new variants.

According to a new study published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open, a monthly open-access medical journal published by the American Medical Association, the majority of people likely infected with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 at a Los Angeles hospital did not know they had the virus.

“It turns out more than half didn’t have any idea. They didn’t know. And then when we delved a little deeper to try to find out why … it turned out most of those individuals didn’t have symptoms,” the director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and corresponding author of the study, Susan Cheng, told Efe.

In the study, Cheng and a group of fellow researchers at Cedars-Sinai analyzed the antibodies of 210 patients and health workers during the peak in Omicron infections between December 2021 and May 2022.

They then compared that data with responses to a medical questionnaire that hospital has conducted since September 2021 (at the end of the Delta wave) as part of a long-term coronavirus study.

Beyond the large number of asymptomatic patients, many of the people who reported having symptoms compatible with Covid-19 during the study period attributed them to the common cold, Cheng said, adding that this phenomenon probably has occurred throughout the pandemic.

Cheng said the findings help explain, at least in part, the rapid advance of Omicron, whose ability to evade immunity from vaccines and relatively mild symptoms have helped make it the dominant variant worldwide.

Even so, the fact that Omicron does not pose a serious risk to the majority of the population (thanks in part to the immunity provided by the vaccines) does not mean the time has come to take Covid-19 less seriously.

The expert explained that certain segments of the population, including those whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy, are still at high risk of serious illness from SARS-CoV-2.

And Cheng said that some people, for reasons that remain unclear, are at a higher risk of Covid-19 reinfection than others.

She therefore argues that precautionary measures that many people may want to discard (such as the use of masks around at-risk people) should be maintained.

“I’m thinking that potentially, if we can, we can move forward with a situation where if I have a cold or some symptoms, or I think I might have been exposed, I voluntarily test myself before I enter my next social venue,” Cheng said.

“Or I voluntarily take extra precautions, remove myself from a crowded work environment or social environment, and make sure that I’m safely not transmitting anything that shouldn’t be transmitted before I enter.”

Regarding the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent decision to further ease requirements for people infected with the coronavirus, including no longer recommending that people quarantine after exposure to a close contact with Covid-19, unless they are in high-risk settings such as nursing homes, the expert said that move would ideally have been complemented by an expansion in the administration of rapid antigen tests.

Although those tests are not entirely reliable in detecting Covid-19 infection in asymptomatic people, she said they remain the most powerful tool available for identifying cases. EFE


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