“I did not say that asymptomatic cases cannot transmit; they can,” Van Kerkhove said. “The question is, do they? And if they do, how often is that happening?”
WHO has not released data that explicitly states Van Kerkhove’s findings. In its latest guidance, WHO offered more information about how and when to wear masks. Future findings will denote more on the COVID-19 community spread from yet-to-be-published contact tracing reports in a number of states.
Last week, researchers from the Scripps Research Translational Institute published a paper estimating that asymptomatic coronavirus patients account for up to 45% of cases and noted that “the viral load of such asymptomatic persons has been equal to that of symptomatic persons, suggesting similar potential for viral transmission.”
Scripps Director Dr. Eric Topol, one of the study’s authors, criticized the WHO’s comments on Twitter, writing that “there are several studies not included in [the WHO’s] brief statement that counter the scant data provided here.”
Van Kerkhove revealed to TIME that it may be hard to pinpoint numbers because some will consider themselves asymptomatic despite showing signs including fatigue or muscle aches. Those symptoms would still be considered symptomatic, she said.
“We’re not ruling anything out,” Van Kerkhove said. “We’re not saying that [asymptomatic spread is] not happening. But we’re saying more transmission is happening among symptomatic individuals. People are looking for a binary, and it’s not that.”