Asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers may be more contagious than previously thought: researchers

New studies on the novel coronavirus seem to show just how far COVID-19 can potentially spread in the air and among people. In addition, a Saint Leo University professor says asymptomatic people are likely just as contagious as those who show symptoms.

“What our study found is asymptomatic people ballooned the reproduction number. It’s a lot larger than people think. They’re the real silent threat with this disease,” said Jacob B. Aguilar, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Leo University.

Aguilar models infectious diseases and recently published a study that developed a system of equations using data from 13 countries. He found that asymptomatic people likely spread the virus at a high rate.

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“There are probably the majority of contagious people have no symptoms, meaning there are no respiratory droplets happening. Essentially, they’re not coughing. They’re not doing anything, but they can still infect you,” said Aguilar.

Adding to the contagiousness of the virus is how far it travels. This week, the Centers for Disease Control released a study that looked at a hospital in Wuhan, China.

The CDC study suggests that droplets could travel up to 4 meters or roughly 13 feet in the air.

FOX 13 shared the CDC study with Aguilar to get his opinion, since he creates equations for infectious diseases.

“Our study kind of just validates that and shows that people have really been underestimating the reproduction number,” Aguilar said.

There is contradicting information from researchers about how far air droplets travel and the CDC acknowledges that it remains controversial.

FOX 13 medical doctor Joette Giovinco said, “I think it really shows us how much we don’t know. We still need to learn more about this virus and that’s why we have to stay put, shelter in place, and try to let these individuals work more of these issues out.”

So while information keeps evolving, what seems to be clear is that the virus remains highly contagious.

“I would warn people just to watch out. Be careful, isolation, that’s all that we can do at this point,” said Aguilar.

The CDC report also found that the shoes of the Wuhan ICU workers tested positive for COVID-19.  Keeping that in mind, Dr. Jo said healthcare workers go to great lengths to prevent contagion transmission on their clothing from the hospital to their homes.

As for the general public, she said you don’t have to go to extremes but if you want to remove your shoes after walking around a public place like a grocery store, Dr. Jo said it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


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