WHO’s Statement Raises Questions On Asymptomatic Spread Of COVID-19

Jun 9, 2020, 8:56 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The World Health Organization raised questions and criticism when it said asymptomatic spread of the novel coronavirus is rare on Monday. Scientists at Harvard were quick to disagree.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said it is clear the coronavirus is spreading asymptomatically in Utah.

“How often that happens, that’s left to be determined,” said Dunn. “Does it happen more often when somebody ends up developing symptoms later on? We definitely know that happens as well. I think it’s important as part of our response, especially as we open up the economy, face coverings continue to be a priority because we’re going to be around each other more as we loosen up restrictions.”

Anything we can do to decrease the risk of spreading the virus is a good thing, she said.

WHO officials scrambled Tuesday to clarify comments it made earlier this week that transmission of the coronavirus by people who never developed symptoms is “very rare.”

Scientists at Harvard’s Global Health Institute said the WHO was “creating confusion.” They said a lot of evidence suggests those without symptoms can, and easily do, spread coronavirus.

Asymptomatic spread is an aspect of the coronavirus that led to specific protocols for limiting the spread. We are advised to social distance and wear masks because of the possibility that we may be asymptomatic and spread the virus without knowing it.

If asymptomatic spread is rare, that calls into question how much difference it makes.

Yet, we are also aware of outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Utah where the majority of patients have been asymptomatic while still testing positive for the virus. That suggests the virus was introduced to the facilities by a worker or another individual and spread by a person who is not showing symptoms.

“The majority of our long-term care outbreaks have started because of pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic spread. So we do know it’s possible, especially in these vulnerable settings here in Utah,” Dunn said.

The Harvard scientists said research shows people without COVID-19 symptoms are spreading the disease and that “the WHO is creating confusion by suggesting otherwise.”

The scientists believed about one in five people who contract COVID-19 never develop symptoms.

As Utah eases restrictions, Dunn said we are increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The risk now, she said, was greater than at any other time in the pandemic and we will have to rely on social distancing and face coverings to slow the spread.

“When possible, social distancing is still key to preventing spread,” she said. “Face coverings are necessary when social distancing is impossible.”

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at

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WHO’s Statement Raises Questions On Asymptomatic Spread Of COVID-19