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'Premature, misleading': Doctors on WHO's findings that asymptomatic patients rarely spread COVID-19

Coronavirus is still a novel disease doctors don't know much about. That's why the CDC still recommends people wear masks and practice social distancing.

TAMPA, Fla. — The World Health Organization said asymptomatic coronavirus patients rarely transfer the virus to others.

"It still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said during a media briefing Monday morning.

That was her response to a question about an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient's ability to spread the disease, saying WHO is focused on following positive cases where patients have symptoms.

"If we actually followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and isolate those contacts, we would drastically reduce, I would love to give a proportion of how much transmission we would actually stop," Kerkhove said.

Local doctors say those statements are misleading and have no data to back the claim.

"Quite frankly, I was a little bit surprised by that announcement. By her own admission, she was saying this is pretty much anecdotal information from some reports that we've had. The studies that have been done by the CDC, by the Scripps Research Institute and even countries like Singapore indicate that there are high levels of spread," said Dr. Jay Wolfson with the University of South Florida Public Health. 

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Back in February and March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported between 20-40 percent of coronavirus patients have no symptoms at all. Fast-forward a few months, the CDC now says 30-45 percent of patients are asymptomatic. 

"While new reports on the virus continue to come out, we see the coronavirus can easily be spread by someone who doesn't have symptoms. I would've said that it's 'less likely' an asymptomatic patient will spread the virus," said Dr. Jill Roberts with the University of South Florida Public Health.

Passengers that were stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship are at the center of their data.

"Three-hundred and thirty-one passengers on that ship were tested and had no symptoms. They were asymptomatic," Wolfson said.

Wolfson now cautions anyone who believes it's rare for asymptomatic coronavirus patients to spread the disease.

"By saying that without presenting hardcore scientific data, not only is it a premature statement, but it's letting people let their guards down. It's not being very responsible scientifically, so I'm a little bit disappointed," Wolfson said. "There are still new cases of death and there are still new cases of positive testing. 

"So, let's be careful."

Doctors continue to say coronavirus is still a novel disease they still don't know much about. That's why the CDC still recommends people wash their hands constantly, wear masks and practice social distancing.

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