Researchers Say 80% Of Coronavirus Cases May Have Gone Undiagnosed In March Alone

( A new coronavirus study is suggesting that more than 80% of people who were infected by the virus in March were never officially diagnosed, meaning there could have been 8.7 million Americans infected in that month alone.

To come up with this figure, researchers looked at the tallies of people who went to a doctor or clinic with flu-like symptoms but were never officially diagnosed with flu, coronavirus or any of the other viruses that typically come in winter. And, according to the report published in the Science Translational Medicine journal, there was a huge spike in these cases in March.

In the report, researchers Alex Washburne of Montana State University, Justin Silverman of Penn State University and others from Cornell University wrote:

“The findings support a scenario where more than 8.7 million new SARS-CoV-2 infections appeared in the U.S. during March and estimate that more than 80% of these cases remain unidentified as the outbreak rapidly spread.”

In March, the United States reported 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. A huge shortage of testing kits then could have contributed to the massive underreporting, the researchers wrote. To date, the U.S. has reported 2.3 million confirmed cases, which is almost one-quarter of what the report says could’ve been around in the month of March alone.

The researchers used data that each state collects through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for flu-like illnesses. The CDC uses this information to track seasonal flu epidemics.

As part of this effort, the CDC asks all doctors to report cases where people seek treatment for a fever, cough and other flu-like symptoms.

As the researchers wrote:

“We found a clear, anomalous surge in influenza-like illness outpatients during the COVID-19 epidemic that correlated with the progression of the epidemic in multiple states across the U.S. The surge of non-influenza ILI outpatients was much larger than the number of confirmed cases in each state, providing evidence of large numbers of probable symptomatic COVID-19 cases that remained undetected.”

What’s potentially more troubling is that these cases only include people who actually went to a doctor’s office or clinic to be treated. There were likely plenty of others who never sought treatment or testing for COVID-19 or the flu.

The researchers continued:

“The U.S.-wide ILI surge appeared to peak during the week starting on March 15 and subsequently decreased in numerous states the following week; notable exceptions are New York and New Jersey, two of the states that were the hardest hit by the epidemic, which had not started a decline by the week ending March 28.”

To come up with their estimates, the researchers had to take into account typical patterns of the annual flu epidemic as well as state populations, since they couldn’t count every case. They also had to take into consideration the fact that people started avoiding hospitals and doctor’s offices in March as the coronavirus pandemic began, out of fear that they would be infected if they weren’t already.