March 11th. Within an hour of learning that Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA halted its season. Over the next 24 hours, one by one, major sports leagues followed the NBA’s lead. Within a week, stay-at-home orders were issued and life hasn’t been the same since.
While sports put the pandemic into the national spotlight, it’s not the reason for it. But it could have an impact on our return to some sense of normalcy.
There are basically 5 categories of those that have been infected with Covid-19.
1. Asymptomatic – Those that were infected but have failed to show symptoms but are/were potential “carriers”.
2. Mild Cases – This would be a group that perhaps had symptoms but they were so mild they needed no medical assistance and recovered on their own.
3. Moderately Ill – Those that suffered symptoms but were told by doctors to quarantine/isolate and contact if the symptoms progress. They may be “assumed” cases, but didn’t need hospitalization and never took an official test.
4. Seriously Ill – Those that have been tested and required medical assistance. Some have been hospitalized (but not all), some needed ventilators, but all have been thru a positive test result.
5. Fatalities – while we can question the cause of death in some, there is no doubt that for many of these individuals the virus contributed to their death.
We are tracking only two of the five categories. The return to society needs to be based more on the three we are not. That needs to change.
Without understanding the first three categories, and collecting data from persons falling into those categories, we don’t have a very important statistic to base our decision on when to return to socialization. “Herd immunity” is going to be important, but another statistic that might be equally important is exact percentage of not only those infected that became part of categories 4 and 5, but those falling into the first three categories as well.
What if we knew that the “asymptomatic” category made up 90% of infections? What if it’s only 10%? We have absolutely no idea what is closer to the truth. Think how the difference in those numbers would impact your confidence, or lack of it, in returning to normal life.
What if we knew the population of those that get infected but suffer nothing more than very mild symptoms was 75% or more of the total infections? What if it’s only 10%? Without formal tracking, we have no way of knowing.
We need this information and it can come much faster than a vaccine. Antibodies testing needs to happen soon. All of the actions being taken by our government is primarily based on the seriously ill or those dying. What if we learned that the death rate of total infections was .001% (random percentage)? What if the seriously ill is actually just a single-digit percentage or less? What if 70% (or more) of those that have the antibodies never even realized they were sick?
These numbers can only be known with research being done on the three categories we haven’t been tracking. We need this now. We don’t have a year to wait on a vaccine.
It’s very difficult to comprehend our personal risk factor, and what we are willing to give up, without all the stats or data. It’s like saying “today a baseball player has recorded a base hit”, but not knowing how many times he has batted. He could be hitting 1.000, or maybe he struck out 9 times before getting a hit and sits at a rather underwhelming .100. In both cases, we can confirm a hit, but our perception of the player changes dramatically when we track EVERY at-bat and not just report on the base hits.
If you found out today you have the antibodies in your system (and never thought you were sick)…would you live your life differently? Exactly. That’s why we need to know.
The NBA might be a good test subject to start with. It was an NBA player’s positive test result that started the reaction, maybe they could test all their players for the coronavirus and ALSO the antibodies. MLB also wants to return, maybe they would be a good test subject while we build the supply of test kits to meet the need of the greater population.
One of the reasons it could be a good starting point is these are individuals that worked in an environment of not just close contact, but extended periods of actual contact. They simulate the ultimate in social engagement…sitting together, in rooms together, on planes together, on buses together, etc.
We would need data from a broader range of demographics (including older adults and children), but SOME data is more valuable at this point than no data.
Ultimately, the safety and socialization of our society, and our ability to return to life as normal, might depend on it.