Robert Redfield, M.D.

The coronavirus is about three times as infectious as common influenza, and social distancing is one of the most powerful weapons Americans have to combat its spread before a vaccine is developed.

That’s according to Robert Redfield, M.D., director of the Centers for Control and Prevention. During a Monday interview with WABE, Atlanta, he noted that up to 25% of individuals remain asymptomatic while contributing to transmission. And those that do become symptomatic appear to carry the virus up to 48 hours before they show any symptoms. 

“This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread,” Redfield told reporter Sam Whitehead.

It’s now generally believed that the disease could turn out to be seasonal – decreasing in late spring and summer, and ramping back up in the fall, Redfield said. Since the virus needs to be within six feet of another person to be transmitted, social distancing will be key to curtailing its spread as everyone prepares for that next wave of illness. 

These revelations may be cold comfort for residents and care providers in the 400 senior living and skilled care settings that Redfield reports are now dealing with outbreaks. They not only face a high risk of severe illness, but can’t easily distance themselves.

The CDC is “constantly going into those care facilities trying to limit these outbreaks or obviously trying to prepare other assisted living centers,” he noted when asked about tracking coronavirus cases.

While almost 98% of the general public will likely recover from the disease, Redfield said, this is not true among older adults. The death rate from COVID-19 in adults is 0.66% overall; but it rises to about 3.3% in those ages 60 years and older with confirmed infection, according to a new data analysis published Monday in The Lancet. The number of individuals likely to be hospitalized also rises with age, to about 18% of confirmed cases in people ages 80 and older.