Despite efforts to track the spread of COVID-19, many of those dealing with coronavirus infections don’t know who passed it to them. A recent study from the CDC shows that more than half of COVID-19 patients are unsure of how they contracted the coronavirus. These findings suggest that many people are getting sick from a lingering virus in their communities, rather than through contact with an infected person.
The “frequent lack of a known contact” presents issues for the United States’s current approach to stalling the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing requirements in most states limit gatherings of more than 10 people, but these measures don’t appear to be enough. As noted by the CDC, “case investigation, contact tracing, and isolation of infected persons are needed to prevent ongoing community transmission.” The center also recommends continued social distancing and increased use of face coverings to avoid coronavirus infections.
It is well known that COVID-19 can spread far wider and more easily in crowded areas. Many cases have been traced back to large gatherings, but the CDC’s research suggests that contracting the virus in such a manner is less common than initially thought. While around half of the 350 patients interviewed for the study recalled coming into contact with a COVID carrier in the weeks before their own symptoms arose, the other half did not. They couldn’t trace their infection back to a close friend or family member, suggesting that “community transmission” is far more common than initially thought.
More information is learned about coronavirus infections every day. Recent studies suggest that tiny respiratory particles in the air—called aerosols—are capable of transmitting the virus. This could allow a healthy person to completely avoid close contact with an infected individual and, upon breathing the same air, still get infected. The danger of aerosol transmission is still unclear, and precautionary measures to combat it are all but nonexistent.
Additionally, many patients who’ve come down with COVID-19 have taken months to recover. Researchers still know very little about the virus overall, and are continually discovering more. Around 80% of infections, however, are considered “mild or asymptomatic” according to the World Health Organization. This means that many carriers are unaware that they have been infected and could further the virus’s spread.