Memorial Health System
COVID-19 Spreading at All-Time High in Symptom-Free People
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[January 13, 2022]
Going out for dinner with friends? Enjoy your
evening, but know your risk and plan accordingly. Right now, one in
six people in our area has COVID-19 with no symptoms, according to
data collected by Memorial Health.
That means if your restaurant choice has 50 patrons,
approximately eight have COVID-19 and are unaware of it. Eight
people out enjoying their dinner with no idea they are contagious to
those around them.
“This figure represents a new high-water mark for COVID-19’s spread
among people who are free of symptoms,” said Lance Millburg, system
administrator for Memorial Health Quality and Performance
Improvement. “Our research underscores how rapidly the omicron
variant is dispersing through our community.”
How does this compare to the high marks of past surges? During the
summer 2021 surge, one in 40 symptom-free people carried COVID-19;
during the 2020 fall surge, it was one in 16.
“No one would willingly spread a potentially deadly virus to their
loved ones,” said Dr. Raj Govindaiah, senior vice president and
chief physician executive for Memorial Health. “Yet that’s what some
symptom-free people are doing – at an alarming rate – when they
carry the COVID-19 virus and don’t regularly wear masks and practice
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What does that mean from a practical perspective?
Social distance, wear a mask at all times in public, and most
importantly, schedule that booster vaccine or your initial
vaccinations if you are unvaccinated, Govindaiah said.
To reach these findings, Memorial Health performs outpatient
COVID-19 tests in patients scheduled for procedures ahead of their
surgeries. These individuals are generally symptom-free and
represent a sampling of central Illinois’ “healthy” population.
In the first week of January, 17% of a sample of over 900
individuals tested positive for COVID-19. This means that up to one
in six individuals were actively shedding COVID-19 in the community
without showing any symptoms. For perspective, on average the
percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 was 2.6% based on
over 65,000 tests. The previous high was 6% in November 2021.
“This means that you’re three times more likely to be exposed to
someone with COVID-19 in public in our community than any previous
surge,” Millburg said.