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The New Republic: We Could Be in the Middle of a Major Covid Spike and Not Even Know It

From The New Republic: Meredith Shiner’s son was born into the pandemic. Now at 19 months old, he’s too young to get vaccinated or wear a mask. As precautions began lifting in her city and across the country, she knew it was only a matter of time—but it didn’t take long. One Thursday night at the end of March, Shiner, a communications consultant in Chicago, received the dreaded day care email: A toddler in her son’s class had just tested positive. The next day, her son developed symptoms and tested positive as well. By that afternoon, he was sicker than she’d ever seen him. “It was scary to see the kind of pain he was in,” Shiner told me. Even when the acute illness began to let up after several days, the toddler cried as he struggled to sleep each day. She rocked him endlessly, but he couldn’t be comforted. Food didn’t taste right, and he spat it out. All told, he tested positive for 12 days, during which time Shiner and her husband also got sick and lost weeks of work.
Their fear was eventually supplanted by rage. There was no contract tracing for the day care outbreak, so it was impossible to know how large it was, Shiner said, and her local health department wouldn’t release numbers on how many day care outbreaks or cases there were. “Why don’t we want to know the size and scope of these outbreaks?” she asked. Her own positive case was only reported to the health department after she took a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test following a positive home test. She took the extra test, she said, because she wanted the local numbers to be more accurate.
I’ve been tracking the numbers on Covid for nearly two and a half years now. And in some ways, I feel more lost and uncertain than I’ve ever felt. Early in the pandemic, I was convinced case numbers were much higher than those being confirmed by faulty and sparse tests. That conviction proved true. But now, I’m not as certain. Are we seeing a slight uptick with the BA.2 variant and its highly transmissible subvariants, as data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate, or is it already a surge, as the many stories of acquaintances testing positive seem to suggest? The reality is, we just don’t have any way of knowing. With many people, as well as leaders, eager to move on and put Covid restrictions behind them, the data on Covid’s circulation throughout the nation has gotten much patchier. “I feel like we’re standing on quicksand,” Carolyn Cannuscio, associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Pennsylvania, told me. “We can’t really believe the data we’re seeing. It’s harder than ever to compare the data across states, for example, and it’s hard to compare the data over time.” The first question epidemiologists like Cannuscio ask is whether one believes the data. “If your answer to that question is no, then you really are stuck. Good data is the foundation for public health.”
Read more at The New Republic.

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