As the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, evolves, so too do the ways we talk about it.
That’s why it’s important to revisit some frequently used pandemic terms, not just to get a clearer sense of the situation at hand, but to better assess the potential dangers posed by the highly transmissible—but less deadly—omicron variant currently spreading across the country.
We asked Northeastern experts to flesh out some important distinctions in how we describe the data, what it means to be “exposed” to the coronavirus, and how widespread infections actually are at this stage of the pandemic. Here’s what they say.
Cases vs. infections: What are we missing?
The sheer scale of the omicron outbreak has underscored some of the longstanding problems in the available data and reporting methods upon which officials rely. One such problem is the underdetection of actual infections in official case counts.
“The number of actual infections is likely amplified by a factor of five to ten, at least,” says Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute and Sternberg Family Distinguished Professor at Northeastern.
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Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.