New research indicates the true number of Americans who have been infected with COVID-19 may be over 20 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By looking at blood samples across the country for the presence of the virus' antibodies, scientists have found that for every confirmed case of coronavirus, 10 more people had antibodies in their system, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC told reporters Thursday.
"Our best estimate right now is that for every case that's reported, there actually are 10 other infections," Redfield said, as per NBC. These proteins in a person's blood that determine if a person's immune system has previously fought off the virus paint a much more grim photo of the infection rate, pushing the 2.3 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. up to an estimated 23 million cases within the country.
The samples being tested aren't just from people who have had antibody testing or who suspect they might have gotten sick, but are also coming from testing performed on blood donated at blood banks or from other laboratory testing of blood. "This virus causes so much asymptomatic infection," Redfield said. "The traditional approach of looking for symptomatic illness and diagnosing it obviously underestimates the total amount of infections."
This new estimate comes amid a spike in cases amid the Southeast and Western U.S. amid younger adults. Thursday, the CDC expanded its list of people who are at the greatest risk for serious complications related to COVID-19, removing people above the age of 65 or older.
"There's not an exact cutoff of age at which people should or should not be concerned," Dr. Jay Butler, head of the COVID-19 response at the CDC, said at the time. While age does increase a person's risk of developing complication, people who are younger are far from in the clear when it comes to contracting the virus in a serious way. The CDC also added to and clarified the list of people who are at risk of severe illness, including those with asthma, high blood pressure, neurologic conditions such as dementia, cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, and pregnant people.
Also at increased risk are people with heart disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes or sickle cell disease. Others with a compromised immune system are also at increased risk.