The COVID News You Aren’t Supposed to See, Part 1: Asymptomatic Spread, Testing, and Immunity

by Steve Golden —

It’s no secret that if you’re only watching mainstream news sources, you aren’t getting the full picture of what’s happening with COVID-19 these days. Media outlets, public health officials, and politicians have worked for months to stir up panic and suppress information that does not fit the doom-and-gloom narrative. The New York Post reported last week that a new analysis revealed this negative trend in US news reports:

Based on an analysis of news stories about COVID-19 that appeared from Jan. 1 through July 31, Dartmouth economist Bruce Sacerdote and two other researchers found that 91 percent of the coverage by major US media outlets was “negative in tone.” The rate was substantially lower in leading scientific journals (65 percent) and foreign sources (54 percent). Sacerdote and his co-authors, who report their results in a working paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that stories about increases in newly identified infections far outnumbered stories about decreases, “even when caseloads were falling nationally.” Coverage of school reopenings likewise was “overwhelmingly negative, while the scientific literature tells a more optimistic story,” indicating that “schools have not become the super-spreaders many feared.”

Jacob Sullum, “US media badly overplays COVID-19 threat, undermining effort to beat virus,” New York Post, December 10, 2020.

Between the negativity and misinformation being spread by the mainstream media and the widespread censorship on social media, it’s hard to trust anything we read.

People all around us are caving to the panic and fear, including those who knew better just a month or two ago. My goal with this series is to provide readers with information about the COVID-19 pandemic that’s not being widely reported and that might allay those fears. But don’t take my word for it—follow the links and do your own research—and then share this with others who want a different perspective.

Are Asymptomatic People the Primary Spreaders of COVID-19? Probably Not.

  • Influenza viruses and COVID-19 are not the same thing, but they behave in similar ways.
  • The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reported in 2014 that a new study showed 77% of people infected with seasonal influenza and H1N1 were asymptomatic.
  • Joseph Bresee, MD and now the CDC’s associate director of global health affairs in the Influenza Division, stated the following at the time:
    • As for the possible role of asymptomatic carriers in spreading flu, Bresee commented that symptoms correlate with the amount of virus shed. “So my presumption is that asymptomatic infected people will shed less virus than people who are symptomatic, and therefore will contribute less to community spread,” he said. “But I’m not sure how much data there are for that.”
  •  In June, the WHO announced that asymptomatic transmission was “very rare,” which is consistent with what we know about similar respiratory viruses like influenza. The WHO later backpedaled on that announcement under pressure from epidemiologists.
  • Nature Communications published a major study on November 20, 2020, that reaffirmed the notion that asymptomatic transmission is rare, if it occurs at all. Almost 10 million Wuhan residents were tested for COVID-19 between May 14 and June 1. There were 0 symptomatic positives, and 300 asymptomatic positives. Contact tracing of 1,174 close contacts found 0 positive cases.
  • JAMA Network published a study on December 14, 2020, tracking COVID-19 spread within households. The authors found that symptomatic cases had an 18% chance of spreading COVID, while asymptomatic cases had only a 0.7% chance of spreading—meaning that asymptomatic spread is rare.

COVID Testing: High False Positive Rates with PCR Testing

  • Widespread testing for a virus gives a more accurate picture of how severe it really is. At the beginning of the pandemic, the US was not doing much testing and only testing those with more severe symptoms. As a result, the fatality rate looked extremely high because only the severely ill were being tracked.
  • A 2014 study of influenza virus recognized this problem. CIDRAP reported at the time:
    • The authors, led by Andrew C. Hayward, MD, of University College London, say flu cases detected by national surveillance systems represent only the tip of a very large iceberg. “Underestimation of the number of community cases leads to overestimates of severity,” they write.
  • States are now pushing for widespread surveillance testing. The benefit of this is that we gain a more accurate picture of how many infections there truly are, which makes the fatality rate lower and more accurate.
    • The problem? The tests being used, known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, are not accurate in their current form.
  • The New York Times reported in August that “the standard tests [for COVID-19] are diagnosing huge numbers of people who may be carrying relatively insignificant amounts of the virus.” In other words, they are not infectious.
  • In the same article, the Times stated, “In three sets of testing data that include cycle thresholds, compiled by officials in Massachusetts, New York and Nevada, up to 90 percent of people testing positive carried barely any virus.”
  • PCR testing is the most common test being used, where a healthcare worker pushes a swab up a patient’s nostril (a nasopharyngeal swab) to collect a sample. The sample is then amplified in cycles to see if there is an infectious level of virus present.
  • The cycle threshold is at the center of the debate right now.
    • The New York Times reported in August that the cycle threshold is set too high:
      • Any test with a cycle threshold above 35 is too sensitive, agreed Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. “I’m shocked that people would think that 40 could represent a positive,” she said. A more reasonable cutoff would be 30 to 35, she added. Dr. Mina said he would set the figure at 30, or even less.
    • Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees, saying at the roughly 4:30 mark of this video:
      • “If you get a cycle threshold of 35 or more, the chances of it being replication-competent are minuscule. . . . It’s just dead nucleotides, period.” (“Replication competent” means viral particles that are capable of being infectious.)
    • A review of PCR testing studies released December 3, 2020, found the following:
      • The odds of finding live virus decreased by about 33% with every one-unit increase in the cycles.
      • Their findings were consistent with a prior study showing that virus could not be cultured from a cycle threshold higher than 24. This new review found that a median cycle threshold of 26.5 detected live virus.
      • Patients who had no symptoms required a much higher cycle threshold to detect virus, while patients with symptoms had a much lower cycle threshold.
  • The Sentinel revealed that the cycle threshold in Kansas is set at 42 on the most commonly used test. Private labs like Quest are set at 40 and Labcorp at 38.
  • A cycle threshold of 42 means that as many as 25% of Kansas COVID cases are false positives, as reported by the Kansas Policy Institute.
  • Why is this significant? Because your county health officials and commissioners are making decisions based on flawed tests. The testing shows supposed “community spread” where none may exist.
    • States like Kansas have been highly resistant to revealing the cycle thresholds being used. Former Shawnee county, Kansas, health officer Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino refused to answer questions related to cycle thresholds in a December 14 meeting and instead resigned over amendments made to his orders (the article containing the quote has since been removed from the Capitol Journal website).
    • The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has also refused to obtain or share cycle threshold data, as reported by The Sentinel.

Do We Develop Immunity to COVID-19 After Infection?

  • COVID-19 antibodies are all the rage, because when we overcome an infection, our bodies produce antibodies that help fight off an invader in the future. But antibody levels decrease over time, which is why we can catch colds over and over again and why we sometimes need vaccine booster shots.
  • A December 4, 2020, study in Science reported that COVID-19 antibodies last “at least 5 months after infection.”
  • Antibodies from direct COVID-19 infection are not our only tool for fighting the virus, however.
  • The common cold can be caused by four different coronaviruses that are milder than COVID-19. When we catch one of these coronaviruses, we develop some immunity from them, but it only lasts a short time. That means we can catch that same cold again the next year.
  • The Scientist reported on November 11, 2020, that there is some cross immunity between the common cold coronaviruses and COVID-19. People who had documented infections with the common cold coronaviruses ended up with much less severe COVID-19 infection.
  • Science published a study on October 2, 2020, that found our memory T-cells (a type of white blood cell) react to both COVID-19 virus and the common cold coronaviruses. This means our T-cells are part of our immunity after having COVID-19, and catching the common cold boosts our immune response to COVID-19.
  • Nature published a similar study on July 15, 2020, which showed that people who previously had the SARS virus in 2003 had memory T-cells that reacted to COVID-19 virus. This means that recovering from SARS also boosts our immune response to COVID-19.
  • In a September 23, 2020, preprint, the authors of a study found that memory B cells, which produce antibodies to infections, reacted to the presence of COVID-19 in the blood of patients who never had the virus before. This means that our bodies will make antibodies to COVID-19 based on prior infections, likely from SARS or the common cold.

The short version: Asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers most likely don’t spread the virus, or at least not to the level that those with symptoms do. If you aren’t symptomatic, you very well may get a false positive if you choose to be tested. If you do get COVID-19, you have immunity for at least 5 months. Stay tuned for part 2!

†Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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