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Word Health Org Walks Back Comments on Asymptomatic Coronavirus Spread Being “Rare” After Worldwide Criticism from Medical Experts

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Word Health Organization (WHO) has backpedaled from recent comments made by Health Emergencies Program member Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove at a June press conference on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Van Kerkhove, technical lead of COVID-19 response and the head of emerging diseases and zoonosis unit at the WHO, had stated last month that the asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus – that is, coronavirus patients that never develop symptoms – were not the main factor in spreading the virus, a statement that that drew immediate criticism from physicians and epidemiologists across the globe.

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” she said. “It’s very rare.”

To be clear, asymptomatic transmission is not the same as pre-symptomatic transmission, which is when people may not look or feel sick, but will eventually get symptoms later.

The WHO’s claim ran contrary to the beliefs of other medical experts that have maintained that the pandemic – mainly spread through respiratory droplets produced via coughing and sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces – was difficult to contain due to asymptomatic spread, leading to rampant shutdowns of economies, mandatory stay-at-home orders, and the adoption of social distancing and mask-wearing.

One of the medical experts is the highly regarded Urologic Oncology Expert and Robotic Surgeon Dr. David B. Samadi who appeared with Greg Kelly on Newsmax TV and said those comments indicated that the panic and hysteria is now ‘out the door’ now.

“The big thing is that, the panic and hysteria is out the door, we can re-open our America, 40 million people have lost their job based on this scientific data that was wrong. This is very big news to the country Greg.”

Van Kerkhove’s comments both angered countless people and members of the media who felt that unnecessary damage had been done to economies, businesses, and personal finances worldwide by drastic actions specifically taken to curb asymptomatic spread, and by some medical officials and scientists who said that their research indicates that the as much as 40 percent of the conronavirus spread may be caused by transmission via people not showing any outward signs of being infected.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a research report that also contradicts Van Kerkhove, stating that asymptomatic transmission among family members and in facilities such as nursing homes offers proof that quarantining, social distancing, face coverings, testing, and contact tracing are needed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Also, several states that have begun reopening their economies after the shutdown to contain the coronavirus spread have experienced huge spikes of reported cases; for example, Texas broke their record of coronavirus cases Tuesday, with 10,000 people testing positive. This also recently happened in Florida.

After widespread skepticism and criticism due to her comments at the press conference, Van Kerkhove walked back her comments via a Q&A session streamed live on the internet, stating that there is still much that is not known about the coronavirus and the complexities of asymptomatic spread.

“I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was just trying to articulate what we know,” she said. “I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. I was referring to a small subset of studies.”

Van Kerkhove noted studies that she had seen that indicate that 16 percent of the world’s population may be asymptomatic, but acknowledged the aforementioned studies that indicate that the rates of asymptomatic transmission could be much higher.

“Some estimates of around 40 percent of transmission may be due to asymptomatic, but those are from models, so I didn’t include that in my answer yesterday, but wanted to make sure that I covered that here,” said. “The majority of transmission is from people who have symptoms and are spreading it through infectious droplets, but there are a subset of people who don’t develop symptoms. To truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answer yet.”

Executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, Dr. Mike Ryan, also participated in the online Q&A, and attempted to explain that Van Kerkhove’s words may have been “misinterpreted” and that debate on the subject was needed.

“If journalists and the public think we’re straying away from evidence, then fine. That’s what this is for,” he said. “If you think there isn’t a basis for what we’re saying then let’s have that debate one-on-one. That’s why we’re here. That was not intended. That was not the intention of the statement.”

To date, there have been 11.8 million worldwide confirmed cases of COVID-19 – the respiratory illness caused by exposure to the virus – and 544,000 deaths, with 133,000 deaths in the United States.

Editors Note: Get the latest information from the CDC about COVID-19. 
You can also visit

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