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The Three Essential Questions about COVID-19

Public-health specialists in the United States and elsewhere must focus squarely on gathering more data regarding how the COVID-19 virus spreads, and which segments of the population are most vulnerable. Answering these questions as quickly as possible has become a matter of life and death.

NEW YORK – The single most important component of an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapid use of data. I recently highlighted 19 critical data gaps regarding the novel coronavirus that we need to address. Now, with COVID-19 continuing to spread rapidly in the United States and elsewhere, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public-health specialists must urgently answer three questions in particular.

First, do people without symptoms and children spread the novel coronavirus?

If we are to know who to test and who to quarantine, it is crucial to understand whether asymptomatic people spread infection. If kids don’t account for a substantial proportion of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as they do with seasonal influenza, then there is much less reason to close schools, and perhaps those that are closed can reopen sooner. Although children up to at least age 18 appear to become very ill with COVID-19 less often, they may be able to spread infection. We need to know how much risk infected children pose to the older and more medically vulnerable people around them, especially because many of these people may be called on to provide childcare during school closures.

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