The Scientific Debate Over Coronavirus: Part I


There’s no denying the inherent frustration of our efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Much of this stems from advice that seems to change on a daily basis. From surface spread to the value of masks, shifting recommendations from the CDC leave many of us deeply confused about how this virus spreads — and what can realistically be done to contain it.

Because the coronavirus is novel, many scientists share this overwhelming sense of confusion. While we know far more about the disease than we did just a few short months ago, researchers have yet to reach a consensus on practically anything. In this blog series, we’ll examine a few of the greatest coronavirus concerns still up for debate.

The Role of Asymptomatic Spread

Confusion abounds over what, exactly, constitutes asymptomatic spread. The World Health Organization helped perpetuate this confusion when, in early June, Maria Van Kerkhove described the problem as “very rare.” Almost immediately, the WHO issued a clarification, claiming that the details and facts about asymptomatic spread remain unknown.

Disagreement surrounding the definition of asymptomatic persists within the scientific community. Generally, asymptomatic carriers are believed to contract the disease and never show symptoms. This is often confused with presymptomatic carriers, who become infected but don’t show symptoms until several days later. This key difference is sometimes lost in the shuffle of the coronavirus news cycle, but it’s an important distinction worth considering. Either way, experts agree that the disease can be spread by both asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals. Both should engage in social distancing whenever possible.