Paradocs Episode 149: Is Asymptomatic Spread of SARS-CoV-2 a Thing? with Daniel Halperin, PhD

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Not only has the COVID pandemic politicized our country – it has led to a lot of misinformation and a shutdown of communication. For instance, is there really asymptomatic spread of COVID? Or just pre-symptomatic and symptomatic spread? That might seem like splitting hairs but it can have a profound effect on policy for quarantining and testing. We’ve talked about this before on the show as well as general discussions on COVID policy which can be found here, here, and here.

12 Myths and 12 Facts About COVID-19

If there is one certainty during this confusing pandemic it is that there are plenty of myths circulating in the media and popular culture about COVID. In fact, many of the things we think we know are wrong. Public officials get them wrong. Doctors and nurses get them wrong. The CDC and FDA get them wrong. Unfortunately, once we discover the truth, often the word doesn’t get out there widely enough to change behavior, regulations, or rituals. Dan Halperin points these out in his book on 12 common myths and 12 uncommon facts about COVID-19.

One great example of this is the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. We have almost no instances of the virus transmitting in this manner and it travels almost exclusively through aerosol means. However, despite this, businesses, individuals, and regulatory agencies still act as if ‘deep cleaning’ and intense adherence to eliminating surface contamination will help prevent viral transmission. This is patently false but it’s been over a year since we have known this and yet we are still wasting our time practicing this type of hygiene.

Another example of a myth believed by many is the transfer of viral particles from asymptomatic individuals to uninfected people. There are almost no documented cases of this type of infection yet we treat asymptomatic infection almost as a common vector. It is important to note that there is pre-symptomatic spread but people who never develop any symptoms just aren’t infectious. It is also true that you never know if you’re about to become symptomatic but we could certainly change the way we approach close contacts if the infected person never develops any symptoms.

Is the Current Environment of Scientific Debate Akin to McCarthyism?

Not only has Dan Halperin written on the epidemiology of COVID but he has also weighed in on his concerns with the academic and public nature of scientific debate. He notes how one of the creators of the mRNA technology expressed some “strange views” which many did not agree with. But instead of rebutting the researcher’s concerns, he was virtually eliminated from history. His contribution to the development of mRNA technology was removed from Wikipedia and he has been eliminated from all common public forums.

Dr. Halperin says it feels a little like McCarthyism which happened in the 1950’s over concern that the Soviet Union and communists were infiltrating American government and society. At the time, most Americans were in favor of the practice of ‘blackballing’ people because of the perceived threat of nuclear annihilation from our Cold War adversary. Only through the lens of time can we now look back and find the practice objectionable and he suspects the same will be the case with our current lack of public acceptance of differing opinions on COVID.

Daniel Halperin is an epidemiologist and full professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health and the author of the book: Facing COVID without Panic: 12 common myths and 12 lesser known facts about the pandemic.

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