On Thursday, the United States reached a significant milestone in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: 100 million total cases. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. became the first country to reach this mark, as of December 21st.
While this achievement is certainly momentous, experts warn that it is likely an undercount. Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, explained that "reported cases are absolutely a massive undercount -- at the beginning of the pandemic where testing was nonexistent to the shift to home testing where a significant proportion of cases has gone unreported."
There are several reasons why there may be underreported cases, including people testing at home and not informing public health officials, not knowing where to get tested, or choosing not to test at all. The CDC estimates that between February 2020 and September 2021, only one in four COVID-19 infections were reported, and there were likely around 146 million infections during this time period.
Dr. Brownstein believes that there are opportunities to collect home testing results as surveillance data to more accurately report the true burden of cases. For instance, the National Institutes of Health launched a website in late November that allows people to anonymously report the results of their at-home COVID-19 tests, regardless of the brand.
The U.S. reaching 100 million COVID-19 cases is a significant milestone and a testament to the impact of the virus on the nation. However, it is important to recognize that this number likely represents only a fraction of all cases and that the true burden of the pandemic may be much greater.
Stay safe during the holidays by wearing a mask, practising physical distancing, washing your hands frequently, getting vaccinated if eligible, and following guidelines for gatherings. Together, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19 and have a safe and happy experience during the holiday season.