Infectious disease experts agree that cases of COVID-19 are being underreported worldwide for a variety of reasons. In China, where the disease was first identified, asymptomatic infections were not included in the official count until the end of March 2020, and, elsewhere, those experiencing mild or no viral symptoms have not always been included in the official case counts.
In many locations, there are restrictions on who can get tested for the coronavirus, as there are simply not enough testing kits for everyone. This skews the data in many locations, as there are just not enough tests available to produce accurate results.
Tallying Coronavirus Infections
While the official number of recorded COVID-19 infections worldwide was in excess of 2 million as of April 15, 2020, it is almost certain that there are many more cases that have not been reported.
The daily number of new cases reflects those people seeking medical treatment, and it leaves out the ones who are dealing with the virus while sheltering at home, as well as cases with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
There is also an underreporting of cases due to lack of availability of testing. For example, as of April 9, the U.K. had performed 317,000 tests compared to Germany's 1.3 million.
The global case count is also skewed by serious underreporting of coronavirus cases from China. The Chinese government is eager to put the crisis behind them, but experts are dubious about the number of cases reported. Since December, there have been eight changing definitions of what officially constitutes an infection in China. Research originating at the University of Hong Kong indicates that there might have been over three times as many cases in China as reported through February 20.
Some clues that point to greater numbers in China are comparisons to the case counts in Italy and the United States, incinerators that run around the clock in the country, and funeral homes that give out thousands of urns with cremated remains daily. Scientists in the U.K. believe that there could be 40 times more cases in China than what is claimed in official reports, and the U.S. intelligence community has identified "intentionally incomplete" numbers from the Chinese government.
The Reporting of Deaths from COVID-19
According to forensic pathologist Dr Judy Melinek, pathologists don't certify a death as primarily caused by COVID-19 unless the symptoms of the disease are apparent. If a person were to die without symptoms but test positive for the virus, the novel coronavirus would be listed as an underlying condition rather than the cause of death. However, the life-threatening nature of the novel coronavirus may be the primary reason for death in many cases, even if not all of the symptoms are present.
Localised reporting has been inconsistent regarding deaths, and in some rural areas, patients may have had the virus without diagnosis, especially early on in the crisis. Deaths attributed to influenza or pneumonia may have actually been among the first coronavirus fatalities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that deaths from pneumonia and the flu are rising at a time of year when they would normally be falling. Without adequate testing capability, it's impossible to accurately measure how many of these deaths are really caused by COVID-19.
Why is Important to Have Accurate Case Counts?
Having access to reliable data regarding the number of illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 might have helped other countries respond to the pandemic more efficiently. Accurate reporting helps epidemiologists determine the infection rate of a disease and how to adequately prepare for when it appears in their countries.
For example, Italy has an excellent healthcare system, but an exploding number of COVID-19 cases overwhelmed their facilities and the ability of their medical professionals to cope.
How to Safeguard Your Health
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from the SARS-CoV-2 virus is to follow the guidelines given by the government for social distancing and disinfecting your home.
Wear a cloth mask when you must leave home, to protect yourself and those around you. Wash your hands frequently and use a hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, using hand sanitiser when it is not possible to wash your hands can prevent you from becoming sick and spreading germs to others.
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