The best-case scenario is that the virus is more infectious than we think

Are these analyses hard-nosed assessments or a form of contrarian wishful thinking? It is too early to say for sure, but we are now beginning to get glimmers of an answer, and, though they are just glimmers, they are not uniformly encouraging. The WHO has long maintained that asymptomatic carriers of the disease represent about a quarter of all infected — which would suggest that, in a perfect and universal testing environment, we’d find a third more carriers of the disease than we’d find just by testing those presenting with symptoms. This would be a significant increase of the infected population, but not one that radically changes our picture of the severity of the disease. In Iceland, such a system as been instituted, and though only one percent of those tested were found positive, the number for asymptomatic carriers is higher: 50 percent of infected Icelanders don’t know they are carrying COVID-19. This is twice as high as the WHO figure, as so, by this logic, relatively good news. But even a doubling of the denominator does not change our picture of the disease that dramatically — it is not Bill Ackman’s 50X, in other words, let alone the Economist’s 200X. It is also in line with a new CDC “renanalysis” suggesting that the infectiousness of the disease might be twice as high as conventional wisdom recently held — a striking revision for those who remember the concern-trolling around those raising earlier alarms about elevated infectiousness rates, though not one that amounts to a basic reconceptualization of the nature of the disease or what we can expect from it. A new, small-sample serological survey in Germany holds more promising results: 14 percent of those tested carried coronavirus antibodies, meaning they’d already been exposed the disease, orders of magnitude more than is suggested by their confirmed case count of less than one-tenth of one percent of their population.