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Why is it so difficult to know how many people have recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Recovery rate likely higher than reported numbers

DETROIT – People keep asking how many people have fully recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19), however it is impossible to give an accurate number.

It is also difficult to even estimate how many people may have healed from the illness.

March 30 update -- Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 6,498; Death toll now at 184

Limited tested capabilities mean that the people who are at the highest risk are being prioritized when it comes to testing. Because of this, there are likely many more people who have been infected, had minimal symptoms and recovered.

This means that any recovery numbers that have been reported are probably underestimated.

According to data from John Hopkins University, there have been 766,336 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. Of that number, 36,873 people have died and 160,001 have recovered.

The people have not died nor recovered are either hospitalized, are recovering at home, were never formally deemed “recovered,” or simply lost touch with the medical system, thus there was no followup.

The United States has had 2,828 deaths and 5,545 people have recovered, however that number of recoveries could be higher because there are many people in the country who were never sick enough to be tested.

MORE: What the CDC says you should do if you believe you have coronavirus (COVID-19)

How COVID-19 Spreads

Person-to-person spread

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

  • Spread is possible before people show symptoms. People who are not showing symptoms can still be carrying the virus and can still pass it on to other people.

Spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

How easily the virus spreads

How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious (spread easily), like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily. Another factor is whether the spread is sustained, spreading continually without stopping.

Prevention & Treatment

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Click here for more guidelines from the CDC.

People who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

Question about coronavirus? Ask Dr. McGeorge here.

Read more about coronavirus here.


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