As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new information is coming out constantly. Here are five important developments from the past week.
1. The WHO clarified its position on the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday, after an official commented on Monday that asymptomatic transmissions of the virus are “very rare.” The Washington Post reports that just 24 hours later, the WHO convened a special news conference to walk back its comments and stressed that much remains unknown.
“It’s a mess. I don’t know why they would say asymptomatic transmission is very rare when the truth is we simply don’t know how frequent it is,” Eric Topol, MD, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, told the Post. “And it doesn’t change the facts we do know, which is that this virus is very transmissible and is very hard to combat.”
2. A study published June 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that nearly half of COVID-19 cases may be traced to people without symptoms. Time reports that researchers at the Scripps Research Translational Institute reviewed data from 16 different groups of COVID-19 patients from around the world to better understand how many cases can likely be traced to people who transmitted the virus without ever knowing they were infected. They concluded that the percentage of those cases is at least 30%, and more likely 40% to 45%.
The groups of patients in the study included more than 13,000 people in Iceland who volunteered to be tested, residents of Vo, Italy, passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship where an outbreak occurred, visitors to homeless shelters in Boston and Los Angeles, prison inmates, college students, and nursing home residents in King County, Washington.
3. Widespread mask-wearing may help prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections, new research suggests. Reuters reports that a new British study suggests population-wide facemask use could push COVID-19 transmission down to controllable levels for national epidemics and could prevent further waves of the pandemic disease when combined with lockdowns.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A. Lockdowns alone will not stop the resurgence of the virus, according to the study, but even homemade masks can dramatically reduce transmission rates if enough people wear them in public.
4. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to disrupt treatment for many people with eating disorders, The New York Times reports. Social isolation and changes in routine have added to the anxiety that many of these patients experience. The story adds that roughly one in 10 Americans struggle with disordered eating, and those affected are facing new hurdles as they attempt to manage difficult relationships with food.
“When the world feels out of control, people want to have control over something,” Jessica Gold, MD, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis who treats patients with eating and other mental health disorders, told the Times. “Often, it’s what you put in your mouth.”
5. U.S. House members pushed the FDA to quickly review the quality of COVID-19 antibody tests. Bloomberg Law reports that at first, the FDA didn’t require these antibody tests to receive any government approval before they became available on the market.
The agency has since introduced stricter oversight after some manufacturers made allegedly false and inappropriate claims, and questions arose about the accuracy of some of the tests. So far, 16 tests have received FDA emergency use authorization while roughly 192 other unvetted tests remain on the market.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern that keeping unvetted tests on the market will lead to consumers drawing conclusions from potentially faulty tests—and subsequently ignoring guidelines meant to curb the spread of the virus.