With COVID-19, we are on our own, by Glenn Ellis

9/3/2020, 6 p.m.
As of now, there is no clear proof that the antibodies that develop after being infected with COVID-19 offer any ...
Glenn Ellis

As of now, there is no clear proof that the antibodies that develop after being infected with COVID-19 offer any protection from future infections. Even if these antibodies will protect you, no one knows what antibody levels are needed to protect against reinfection.

As evidenced by the man in China who was the first confirmed case of being infected a second time, we need to accept that there is much we need to understand about COIVD-19 in order to protect ourselves as best as possible.

As summer comes to an end, the prospect of a flu season during the coronavirus pandemic is a frightening thought for many health experts. Six months after the start of the pandemic, we are seeing tens of thousands of deaths and thousands of people experiencing horrible effects from the virus even after surviving. And yet we seem to be far away from understanding this virus.

Now, it can only be called “mind-blowing” that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just issued guidance that says if you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or state or local public health officials recommend you take one.


It has been barely a month since the CDC confirmed that 40 percent of all COIVD-19 cases in the United States are among people who don’t know that they are infected. In other words, they are asymptomatic. Up until now, the guidance stressed the importance of testing people who were in close contact with infected people. Now, without explanation, this is no longer recommended.

The whole purpose of doing testing is to reduce the rate at which someone infected comes in contact with someone not in- fected, or reduce the probability of infection if there is contact. The more a person interacts with different people, and the longer and closer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. So can someone help me understand why, all of a sudden, the CDC is changing course and now discouraging testing?

Hospital and death records show that Black people, Latinos and Native Americans are disproportionately suffering and dying from this severe disease. Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people. Black and brown communities face higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and other conditions that worsen the COVID-19 prognosis.

It’s no secret that Black and Latino people are more likely to live in densely populated inner cities and neighborhoods, in cramped, multigenerational homes, exposing them to more people, thus more opportunity to infect or be infected. On top of that, the same families are, in essence, being forced to send their children back into schools, only magnifying the potential for children and young people to expose older relatives.

There are two reasons to conduct COVID-19 testing during this pandemic — to confirm that people with symptoms are actually infected with COVID-19 and to detect the virus in people who have been infected but don’t know it because they don’t have any symptoms.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that 10 percent of people may be responsible for 80 percent of novel coronavirus cases. So what is it that the CDC is saying to the rest of us?

There’s not a lot more “evidence” we need to see from the ever-changing guidelines; the neglected communities who have carried a disproportionate burden of the infection, sickness and the deaths; and now the seemingly blatant ignoring of the need for testing in light of the obvious vulnerability, to realize that in many ways — as we have been historically — we are on our own.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the National Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University and a Harvard Medical School Research Bioethics Fellow.