Millions of Americans Could Have Coronavirus, Survey Reveals

More than 86,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. have been confirmed, making it the new epicenter of the outbreak. But the actual number of infected people in the country is likely to be greater, with many cases potentially being unreported due to a lack of testing or being undetected because of a lack of symptoms.

The virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, a city in China's Hubei province, has spread to nearly 559,000 people across 176 countries and regions. Over 127,700 have recovered from infection, while more than 25,300 have died, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

China has reported more than 81,900 cases and nearly 74,300 recoveries. With more cases now being reported outside China than within, the country now claims the outbreak has been largely contained.

On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that "552,000 tests have been performed and completed all across the United States" at a White House press briefing.

However, a new study of Americans suggests that potentially several million people in the U.S. could be infected, based on a survey of whether they have been diagnosed with the virus, been in contact with an infected person or know someone in their social network who has been infected.

The study by Reuters and research firm Ipsos, which surveyed 4,428 American adults between March 18 and 24 this year, reported 2.3 percent of those surveyed said they were diagnosed with the virus.

The population of the U.S. is estimated to be about 332,630,000. So the 2.3 percent in the latest poll would translate to more than 7.65 million people.

The latest study also reported a sharp rise in people who said they tested positive from a similar poll of 1,115 Americans conducted on March 16 and 17, which showed one percent of those surveyed said they were infected.

Other findings included that Latin Americans and younger people were more likely than white people and older Americans to come into contact with infected individuals. The outbreak was also reported to have a high concentration in the northeast but also suggested it was widespread throughout the country.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases—the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus—in a selection of states.

Coronavirus New York
Steep increase in coronavirus cases in New York. Statista

David Cates, the director of behavioral health at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, noted: "You know, with the doubling rate in the country, it's not implausible that the infected rate was 1% and now it's 2.3%," he said.

"Going back to that concept of the wisdom of crowds, you're getting a response that may actually be closer to reality than confirmed testing. And that is just absolutely fascinating."

Some of the key findings of the survey include:

  • 2.4 percent of those polled said they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
  • 2.6 percent said they knew someone who has been in close contact with a person who has tested positive.
  • 19 percent of Americans aged under 35 said they were either infected, had contact with someone infected or knew someone infected, compared with only six percent of Americans aged 55 and over.
  • 16 percent of Latin Americans said they were either infected, had contact with someone infected, or knew someone infected in their social network, while only 9 percent of white people said the same.
  • A higher percentage (13 percent) of people in denser urban areas also reported they were infected, had contact with someone infected or knew of an infected person in their network, than those in rural communities (9 percent).

Older people may be less likely to have contact with infected people because they tend to have smaller social circles, noted Northwestern University economics professor Charles Manski. Older Americans are also being more careful than the younger population, given they are more vulnerable, he added.

Latin Americans may be more exposed to the virus because many high-risk, low-paying jobs, which have not been ordered to cease operations, such as hospital custodial staff, delivery drivers and warehouse workers, have a higher portion of minority workers, explains Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

Bernie Sanders rally Los Angeles Convention Center
The crowd at a Bernie 2020 presidential campaign rally at Los Angeles Convention Center on March 01, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Getty Images

Dr. Deborah Birx, a physician and health expert on the COVID-19 virus task force led by Pence, confirmed that "55 percent [of] all cases and 55 percent of all new cases [in the country] continue out of the New York metro area; that's the New Jersey part and New York part, in particular. I haven't added in Connecticut or other counties at this point," at a White House press briefing on Thursday.

"We are concerned about certain counties that look like they're having a more rapid increase, if we look at Wayne County in Michigan and you look at Cook County in Chicago.

"All of the counties that I've mentioned—the hotspots are in urban areas or in the communities that serve that urban area. And I think that's something very important to remember as we move forward," she said.

She also confirmed that 19 states in the country had early cases "but have persistently low level of cases and, at this point, have less than 200 cases. So that's almost 40 percent of the country with extraordinarily low numbers."

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S.

This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases by state.
This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases by state.

Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University unless otherwise stated.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
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