On Monday, the World Health Organization explained that the threat of coronavirus spreading from people who appear and feel healthy themselves is extremely low. Mari Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist who leads the technical part of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, told reporters that it is a rare occurrence for an asymptomatic person to transmit the disease forward.
Van Kerkhove’s comment falls in line with what WHO’s experts have been highlighted for months. Usually, COVID-19 spreads through sustained close contact between people situated indoors. This includes offices, homes, hospitals, churches, and other settings where people come in close contact with each other for several hours. If airflow is restricted, the chances for coronavirus to spread increase.
What this seems to indicate is that healthy, or seemingly healthy individuals are not a threat during the pandemic. If asymptomatic carriers are actually not that big of a threat, face coverings in public become a lot less important, since only sick people should be recommended to wear them.
Recently, WHO updated its guidelines on wearing masks in public. They have mentioned that the rate of asymptomatic transmission is low, but the spread of COVID-19 via fomites, which means surfaces and objects, is still a relevant risk, even in the case of asymptomatic carriers.
Van Kerkhove also said that a lot of cases are labeled as being asymptomatic, but are instead mild cases. This means that they are still detectable and could still present a significant risk of transmission. Van Kerkhove explained that, upon retroactive examination, researchers realized that a lot of cases that were thought to be asymptomatic were simply mild forms of the disease.
WHO declared that some people infected with COVID-19 would never develop any sort of symptoms, evidence suggesting that they also shed the virus. Van Kerkhove, however, explained that this shedding is not an important cause of new cases.