Many Americans With Covid-19 Don’t Know How They Got Infected

October 12, 2020

A new study suggests that many Americans with COVID-19 are unable to determine how they became infected.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than half of Americans with COVID-19 could not identify another person with whom they had close contact before becoming ill in a recent survey.

The findings suggest that many people may become infected through transmission in their communities rather than from someone they know well in their lives, the CDC said. This “emphasizes the need for isolation of infected persons, contact tracing and testing …. and precautions, including social distancing and the use of cloth masks,” while community transmission is ongoing, the authors say. (Contact tracing typically involves identifying people who have been in contact with COVID-19 cases to notify them of their exposure, refer them for testing, monitor their symptoms, and encourage them to be isolated for 14 days, according to the CDC.)

The study was based on telephone interviews with 350 adults in nine states who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 31 and May 10 and were interviewed between April 15 and May 24. Of these, 77% were tested in an outpatient setting, such as a doctor’s office or emergency room, while 23% were tested during an inpatient stay.

Overall, 46% reported having close contact (within 6 feet) with someone with COVID-19 in the two weeks prior to testing positive for COVID-19; however, 54% were not aware of having close contact with someone with COVID-19. When patients did report having COVID-19 contact, it was usually a family member or co-worker.

The study also found that hospitalized patients were more likely to be older, have underlying conditions and have incomes below $25,000 a year, and less likely to be white, than those who were not hospitalized. This finding agrees with previous research showing that low-income and minority populations are hit harder by the virus.

About two-thirds of the participants said they were employed, but only 17 percent of the 209 who answered questions about teleworking said they were able to work remotely. This finding highlights “the need for enhanced measures to ensure workplace safety,” the authors said.

The authors noted that participants were treated at academic medical centers in only nine states, so they may not be representative of cases across the United States.