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Actual COVID-19 Infections In Washoe Co. Much Higher Than Reported, Study Finds

A graphic showing a medical professional giving a patient a nasal swab used for COVID-19 testing.
United Nations COVID-19 Response

Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Washoe County is significantly higher than what’s being reported. That’s according to the results from the first COVID-19 antibody study out Wednesday.

On June 10, Washoe County had 1,832 confirmed cases of COVID-19. But, according to findings from the study, the actual number of cases could have been up to five times more than that.

Researchers with the Washoe County Health District and the University of Nevada, Reno conducted what’s called a seroprevalence study. It’s basically a blood test that determines whether someone has antibodies for the novel coronavirus.

“By looking at the antibody prevalence in a population, you can extrapolate that number back to the entire population and say, ‘This is how many estimated number of cases we think have actually happened to date,’” said Heather Kerwin, the epidemiology program manager for the Washoe County Health District.

Seroprevalence Study Results by KUNR Public Radio on Scribd

That can have big implications. For example, Health District Officer Kevin Dick announced Wednesday that there are 1,073 active COVID-19 cases. He said this study suggests the number is likely much higher.

“You can look at that number of 1,073 active cases and estimate that we probably got, in total, 5,000 or perhaps more active cases in Washoe County right now,” Dick said.

However, researchers said if the number of COVID-19 cases is higher, the death rate across the county is actually much lower. In June, the reported death rate was 3.66%. This study shows the actual rate is 0.81%.

Researchers did acknowledge one limitation of the study. Latinos, who make up about a quarter of Washoe County’s population, represented just 11% of participants.

Anh is a contributing editor for the KUNR news team and has been with the station since 2014. She is an alumna of the Boston University School of Public Health and Teachers College, Columbia University.
Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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