Researchers with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published a new study warning that actual COVID-19 case numbers in the United States may be drastically higher than reported. The potentially true number of cases was determined using a probabilistic multiplier model and existing data on infections.
The US has struggled with getting enough COVID-19 tests for the population throughout the pandemic and widespread testing is still not available or utilized in many states. This has resulted in a large number of people who likely became infected with the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19, but who did not get officially diagnosed and therefore were not included in official statistics.
The new study from the CDC scientists uses a model based on known data to determine the number of cases that may have gone unreported, finding that when it comes to nationally-reported cases of non-hospitalized COVID-19, only 1 in every 7.1 illnesses may have been identified. When it comes to hospitalizations resulting from COVID-19, the number drops to 1 in every 2.5 cases.
Whereas the officially reported number of COVID-19 cases in the US at the end of September was around 53 million, the actual number of cases by now could be closer to 100 million, based on this study.
The data used for this model stopped at the end of September, meaning there are nearly two additional months of infections that aren’t included in the figures. The number of COVID-19 cases is expected to jump over the coming weeks due to travel over the holidays despite public health recommendations to stay isolated at home.
The CDC study notes that these are preliminary estimates, but they aim to highlight the burdens of this disease on the healthcare system and society in general. Using models such as this can help experts determine where to allocate resources and to form mitigation plans in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.