by Chuck Ross
A top Ohio health department official who said Thursday that 100,000 or more people in the state have coronavirus now says she was “guesstimating” to arrive at the alarming number.
“I am not saying there are absolutely for certain 100,000 people,” Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, said at a press conference Friday. “I’m saying I’m guesstimating. If I’m guesstimating community spread, that’s my best number.”
Acton raised eyebrows Thursday when she said that because there is community spread of coronavirus in Ohio, at least 1% of residents in the state are likely to have the virus.
“Just the fact of community spread says at least one percent, at the very least one percent of our population, is carrying this virus in Ohio today. We have 11.7 million people, so the math is over 100,000,” Acton said Thursday.
Community spread occurs when individuals become infected with a disease without having traveled to places with known outbreaks, or having contact with someone known to carry a virus.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine amplified Acton’s estimate Friday, saying on Twitter that it is likely that 100,000 residents in the state are “walking around” with coronavirus. He also cited Acton’s claims in an interview on Fox News.
But some health experts questioned Acton’s numbers.
One reason to doubt that Ohio has 100,000 undetected cases of coronavirus is that there have been no deaths recorded in the state so far.
Dr. Trevor Bedford, a physician at the vaccine and infectious disease division of Fred Hutch, noted that when there were around 100,000 infections in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, there were 1,000 severe cases in the city, and 300 deaths.
“Thus, given the severity of this disease I don’t see how it’s possible to reach 100k infections and not notice it in deaths and hospitalizations,” Bedford wrote on Twitter, adding that he “very respectfully disagree[d]” with Acton’s estimate.
In the U.S., there are more than 1,700 confirmed cases, and 41 people have died. Ohio had five confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Thursday, and 14 as of Friday.
Bedford also pointed out that it took around three months for Wuhan to reach 100,000 cases.
“Thus, it would have had to have been circulating in Ohio since mid-Dec for this to be the case, which is almost certainly not the case,” he wrote.
Acton noted at Friday’s press conference that her comments Thursday had gone “viral,” and offered an explanation of how she arrived at the 100,000 figure.
She said that the “guesstimate” was based on one prediction that 60% of the U.S. population will become infected with coronavirus. Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, has estimated that between 20% and 60% of Americans will come down with coronavirus, known as COVID-19, at some point.
Acton said that Ohio health officials “worked our way back” on the calendar to determine Ohio’s infection rate.
“We roughly guesstimated March 9th” as the date that Ohio would have an infection rate of one percent, she said.
It might only be a matter of time before coronavirus does infect substantial numbers of Americans. Health professionals hope to slow down the rate of increase in infections, so that hospitals and health facilities can better manage the epidemic.
ODH did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for additional information. DeWine’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment.
“You look a little bit like an alarmist,” Acton said of herself during Friday’s press conference.
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Chuck Ross is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Dr. Acton” by Ohio Department of Health.