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COVID-19 pandemic is not ‘fading’ in the United States

August 6, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: COVID-19 is “fading.” A second wave is unlikely because younger and healthy people don’t easily catch or spread it, so the virus “struggles to spread any more.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Data show the pandemic is spreading in the United States, not fading, and public health experts say both young and healthy people do catch and spread it.

THE FACTS: A widely viewed Facebook post titled, “Why is the Epidemic Fading?” answers the question with a series of unsubstantiated claims that are contrary to current scientific consensus, including that younger people and healthy people “don’t easily catch it or spread it.” The post suggests it is referencing the U.S. because it includes a graphic of COVID-19 deaths by state.

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The post’s author, Douglas G. Frank, confirmed to the AP the text of his post is intended to describe the pandemic’s trajectory in the U.S. and some European countries.

While some European countries have continued to keep the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases low, others are seeing recent upticks, and the pandemic has not faded away in the U.S. Data from the COVID-19 Tracking Project show daily cases in the U.S. rose steeply in mid-June. Daily death numbers began increasing again in early July. More than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths have been recorded daily in the U.S. in recent days.

Nicholas G. Reich, an associate professor of biostatistics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, cites the average number of daily positive tests recently as proof the virus is not waning.

“60,000 new confirmed cases a day is in my mind far from evidence that this outbreak is fading — it’s evidence that it is raging,” said Reich, who aggregates coronavirus forecasts for the COVID-19 Forecast Hub in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Aug. 5, the number of new confirmed cases that day had fallen to around 57,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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Reich said while some states like New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts are seeing declines in deaths compared to a few months ago, “many other states have rising rates.”

The most recent aggregated forecast on the COVID-19 Forecast Hub predicts forty states have a higher than 50 percent chance of seeing higher death rates in the next two weeks than in the previous two weeks, including 11 states that have a 75 percent chance.

Public health experts say the claim that healthy people don’t easily catch or spread the virus is false. One factor making the virus particularly difficult to contain is healthy, asymptomatic people unknowingly spreading it to others.

“We don’t really know how effectively the very young spread it,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association told the AP. “But certainly age 10 and above, most of the evidence we have today says they’re just like adults.”

When AP asked Frank, the creator of the post, about the claim that healthy and younger people don’t easily catch and spread the virus, he asserted that public health officials have told the public that staying healthy can help people avoid the disease. But public health and medical experts contacted by the AP say that assertion is wrong. “If you are healthier, you’re less likely to get really sick if you do get infected. It says nothing about whether you’re likely to transmit the virus, or to get infected with the virus,” said Art Reingold, a professor of epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley.

“The experience we have now is that anyone exposed can get sick,” Benjamin said.

Frank said his claim that younger people do not easily catch and spread the virus was backed up by a February report from the World Health Organization on COVID-19 in China. The report found a “relatively low attack rate” among those under 18.

“Much of what we thought then was wrong,” Benjamin said, noting that the report was from early in the pandemic. “Since then we know this is indeed not correct.” Reingold said there is new evidence at this point showing that children can readily catch and transmit the virus. One example is a recent outbreak among hundreds of campers at a Georgia summer camp.

Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease physician and Stanford University professor of medicine who treats COVID-19 patients, told the AP, “Even perfectly healthy, young people have died of this disease.”

The post goes on to claim the virus “exploited the easy vectors ... the people who are vulnerable.” It now “struggles to spread any more” and “a larger second wave is very unlikely.”

Benjamin said data do not support the premise that most people vulnerable to the virus have already been infected and the virus is struggling to spread. “If you want to re-infect New York City, all you need is one person to go into New York City — a super spreader — and they can get a new explosion,” Benjamin said. “It doesn’t take a lot.”

Frank said his intent is to illustrate that the virus is spreading only in some U.S. counties, and is diminishing in many places that were hit hard in April. He told the AP, “You need to read more than just this one post in order to understand my point of view, my point of view is complete and nuanced.”

Frank, an Ohio teacher who holds a Ph.D in chemistry, said he began modeling COVID-19 with his calculus students in December.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536