Bill Gates has told CNBC that the Seattle lab that his foundation is working with is studying the spread of COVID-19 through home testing kits. They are tracing asymptomatic people and other features of the virus in an attempt to combat it. So far, Gates thinks the data will show that asymptomatic spread might be lower than initially thought.
Physical distancing and PPE are important tools to slow the spread of this Coronavirus but the deadliest traits of the virus are it’s ability to spread fast and spread through those who do not show symptoms. Though the CDC says that it is possible to spread the virus from 2-14 days before showing symptoms, emerging data may show that this facet of the pandemic could possibly be less poignant than originally thought.
“I think it’s very unlikely the numbers are anywhere that high.” Gates told Rebecca Quick who sited that asymptomatic spread can be anywhere from 10-25%. “It’s very unlikely that there is a lot of asymptomatics who never become symptomatic and yet they’re infecting people,”
However, presymptomatic (detected before symptom onset) or asymptomatic (detected but symptoms never develop) are different. Gates claim is that symptoms are likely to show up eventually, not never.
The CDC published a report on May 4 that said that presymptomatic persons were essential to the initial spread in China. Though much of the literature sited from the CDC varied wildly when it came to tracing the efficacy of SARS-CoV-2 in those who showed no symptoms. One study claimed 50% of cases were a result from exposure to non-symptomatic people who carried the virus while another claimed 80%. However, the CDC says that the aggregate of published literature on the virus states clearly that spread can happen from those who show little to no symptoms.
Regardless of the exact number Gates and the CDC both agree that learning that number would be profoundly valuable in not only knowing how best to handle the reopening of economies but would contribute to a better overall understand of how to combat the virus.
“We need to know that number because that deeply affects rebounds when opening up,” said Gates. There is some data that suggests it’s not a gigantic number but [it’s] very very important to pin that down.”
In a letter he recently penned Gates talked about the dangerously efficient SARS-CoV-2.
“Computer models show that if there are a lot of people who are asymptomatic but infectious, it is much harder to open up without a resurgence in cases. There is a lot of disagreement about how much infection comes from these sources, but we do know that many people with the virus don’t report symptoms, and some portion of those might end up transmitting it.”
The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN) is currently working with the University of Washington and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop home testing kits for COVID-19 in an attempt to understand infection rates among symptomatic and non-symotmatic persons.
Bill Gates left as head of Microsoft in 2008 to focus on philanthropic work through The Gates Foundation. The foundation puts over half of its resources into reducing deaths from infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and pneumonia. Their work also has also fought epidemics like Ebola, SARS, or Zika over the years by working with the private sector and affected governments. For more than a decade Bill’s work to combat these scourges lead him to his eerily prophetic TED talk in 2015 where he warned the world it was not ready for a respiratory epidemic in my 2015 TED talk.
Though many governments, foundations, universities and labs are all fighting against this pandemic one thing is clear, we still have much to lean about SARS-CoV-2.