Local doctors weigh-in on 'very rare' asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission studies from WHO

Posted at 4:47 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 17:20:43-04

GRAND RAPIDS — It could be a game changer in the fight against COVID-19; the World Health Organization released new data Monday, saying asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 is ‘very rare.’

Tuesday, the organization is walking that statement back a little bit, saying using the words ‘very rare’ may have been oversimplifying things.

FOX 17 spoke with a local infectious disease doctor who said that we need to take all of that information with a grain of salt.

Dr. Andrew Jameson, the Division Chief of Infectious Disease at Mercy Health said, “Asymptomatic spread is not the thing that is driving this pandemic.”

Dr. Jameson said while COVID-19 cases where people don’t have symptoms do exist, the likelihood of them passing the virus to others is much smaller.

He said, “I still feel that the majority of transmissions in our country are from symptomatic people and when you think about it, it actually makes sense. What is the primary way for these droplets to get out of us? It’s by coughing or sneezing which is by definition a symptom.”

He added that with every study, there’s always room for nuances.

“We have to take it a step at a time and say ‘What do we know for sure and what is still conjecture?’ and there’s a heck of a lot that is still conjecture out there,” Dr. Jameson said.

As the state starts to loosen restrictions, Dr. Jameson said these new findings aren’t an excuse for a ‘free-for-all.’

“I think it’s the right thing to do to open up. I think we have to do it because there were a lot of economic consequences, there were definitely mental health consequences, and we had to start opening up,” he said, “But I would urge people not to let their guard down. I would say do things and control situations in a way that you can.”

So what can you control?

Dr. Jameson said, “Protect yourself in the best ways that you can. Do not put yourself in situations where you can put you out of control. [Wear a ] mask, wash your hands, and then we’re all kind of going to do this together.”

He adds that outdoor activities have proven to be very low-risk for spreading the virus, so wearing a mask outside isn’t necessary, but he still encourages wearing them in public indoor spaces.

“Everyone chips in, everyone wears a mask, you all use good hand hygiene, that will actually be majorly effective to help keeping our community safe,” said Dr. Jameson.

As we keep getting new data, Dr. Jameson suggests people take an objective look at what the study actually says, and then make the decision they feel is best for them and their family.

He said, “The evidence has changed so much over the last three months, and this is such a new virus that we are finding out more and more.”

Dr. Jameson adeed that we have to be careful about lumping asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases in with each other. For example, someone who is pre-sympomatic could test positive for COVID-19 without feeling sick and then develop symptoms a few days later. That’s why he said it’s important for studies to make the distinction.

Overall, he said we aren’t seeing many cases in West Michigan where people have no idea how they contracted the virus, which he is calling is good news.