WHO's comments on asymptomatic COVID-19 spread called confusing, irresponsible

World Health Organization officials said June 8 that people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic are not driving the spread of the new coronavirus, but two healthcare experts tweeted that the comments are creating confusion and are irresponsible.

Andy Slavitt, former acting CMS administrator, tweeted that though the WHO's statement is based on legitimate observations, he believes it was irresponsible. Mr. Slavitt said that he spoke with the WHO and has come to understand that based on a small amount of contact-tracing data from China, the WHO found that most people said they became sick after coming into contact with a person showing symptoms.

Mr. Slavitt also spoke to four scientists who said the information from China is not solid since there are studies showing asymptomatic spread of the virus. People also can be "unreliable reporters of whether they have symptoms," he tweeted.

The scientists said about 20,000 new coronavirus cases are being reported in the U.S. every day, and most people with symptoms are staying isolated at home, which means it is likely that the new cases are a result of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread. Pre-symptomatic people are those who have the virus but have not started showing symptoms.

Ashish K. Jha, MD, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, tweeted that his "best guess" is that infected people without symptoms are "an important cause of spread."

Dr. Jha pointed to data that shows that about 20 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus are truly asymptomatic and never develop symptoms, but of the other 80 percent, "many are shedding virus BEFORE they develop symptoms," he tweeted.

According to Dr. Jha, the WHO may be making a distinction between asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people, but both are a "huge problem for controlling disease."

".@WHO communication here not stellar. If folks without symptoms truly "very rarely" spread virus, would be huge. But such a statement by @WHO should be accompanied by data. Asymptomatic spread is Achille's heal (sic) of this outbreak. Would love to be wrong. Need to see data. Fin," Dr. Jha tweeted.

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