Conflicting data from numerous public health organizations has brought forward a number of tough questions for Americans on both how the U.S. response to COVID-19 is doing, what we can expect moving forward and whether our institutions are even tracking data accurately.
Here we’ll answer three of the most burning questions Americans have about the virus.
Did The CDC Revise Its Data?
Viral rumors have swirled online in recent weeks that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its death count down from roughly 64,000 to 37,000 in early May, but is it true?
In short, no. The confusion arose from differing reporting procedures between the CDC and National Vital Statistics System, both of which can be found in different areas of the CDC website.
The NVSS undergoes a much more cumbersome process for confirming a coronavirus death, waiting for confirmation from a death certificate. As a result, its death totals often lag behind other measures like those utilized by the CDC and Johns Hopkins University.
“It is important to note that it can take several weeks for death records to be submitted to National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), processed, coded, and tabulated,” a disclaimer on the NVSS website reads, according to Buzzfeed. “Therefore, the data shown on this page may be incomplete, and will likely not include all deaths that occurred during a given time period, especially for the more recent time periods.”
“Data during this period are incomplete because of the lag in time between when the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to NCHS and processed for reporting purposes,” the website adds. (RELATED: Obama Officials Said On TV That Trump Colluded With Russia — They Said Otherwise Under Oath)
The CDC on the other hand does not wait for the NCHS to confirm deaths before reporting them. Instead, it receives up-to-date statistics directly from state health systems, allowing it to stay ahead of other national trackers.
The CDC’s current death count in the U.S. stands at 93,061.
Does Isolating The Elderly Work?
One of the earliest proposed responses to the coronavirus was the concept of “herd immunity,” in which the most vulnerable members of a society are closeted away temporarily while the more healthy members contract the disease, survive and gain immunity. Once enough healthy members have gained immunity, the vulnerable could be safely reintroduced.
The United Kingdom briefly experimented with policies aimed at attaining herd immunity and Sweden has pursued the strategy with unclear results.
Sweden has for months refused to enter a strict lockdown as other Western nations have. As a result, its economy has been somewhat spared the effects of coronavirus but its COVID-19 death rate reportedly outstrips its neighbors in Norway, Denmark and Finland. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Heritage Foundation Drops Phase 5 Reopening Recommendations To White House)
Johns Hopkins puts Sweden’s death rate at 37.6 per 100,000 population. Norway’s is 4.4, Denmark’s is 9.5 and Finland is 5.5. But Sweden’s rate is still below other nations that have pursued more stringent lockdowns such as the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Italy.
In the U.S., however, at least one state has found success in its attempt to protect the elderly. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis prioritized locking down nursing homes and retirement facilities as the outbreak began. He was widely criticized in the media for delaying the shutdown of public beaches, but nearly two months later his state is performing well despite receiving a massive influx of people fleeing New York City at the height of its outbreak.
Do Those Who Recover Gain Immunity?
The question of immunity for those recovering from COVID-19 has been central to mapping out responses to the disease, but until recently, there has been very little scientific evidence either way.
There were scattered reports of patients in Japan testing positive for the virus even after recovery, but doctors seemed to remain confident infected patients would build up a defense against the virus.
The human body fights off viruses ranging from influenza to COVID-19 with the production of antibodies, proteins built by the immune system and tailored to fight against specific viruses. These antibodies remain in a person’s immune system long after a person recovers from a disease, which is why it is exceedingly rare for a person to catch the same strain of flu more than once in a season.
The human body produces COVID-19 antibodies in the same way, and studies have found that the vast majority of people who recover from the disease do in fact gain immunity, according to Live Science. People testing positive for the disease weeks after infection are actually false alarms.
“These people aren’t reinfected,” the outlet writes. “Their antibody levels are high and their immune system is armed against further attack. Instead, the PCR tests are simply picking up bits of inert viral genetic debris left over from the previous infection.”
Covid Patients Testing Positive After Recovery Aren’t Infectious, Study Shows. They’re shedding only dead virus. https://t.co/njNxIub67c
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) May 19, 2020
If COVID-19 antibodies remain in the immune system for similar lengths of time to other coronaviruses and SARS or MERS – and scientists have found no reason to believe they wouldn’t, according to Live Science – antibodies will remain in the immune system for two to three years. They will “[start] high and gradually [wane] as time goes by,” radiation oncologist Dr. Robert Samstein told Live Science.
Still, immunity is partially based on the ratio of viral exposure to existing antibody count. The presence of antibodies is not a guarantee of immunity. Researchers have found in preliminary trials that most who recover from COVID-19 develop antibodies that neutralize the virus in a petri dish, though it has not yet been confirmed that the same effect is occurring within the human body.
Ultimately, however, the only sure method modern medicine has to eliminate diseases is the vaccine, which is still months away at the earliest for COVID-19.