Asymptomatic Carriers, a CO2 Shortage, and Tracking Oxygen Levels

A roundup of stories we’re reading about Covid-19 today

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
2 min readApr 21, 2020

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  • The case for using a pulse oximeter: In a fascinating opinion piece for the New York Times, Richard Levitan, MD, an emergency physician, writes that many people with Covid-19 are not recognizing they have low oxygen levels for the first several days they have pneumonia because they aren’t short of breath yet. Often by the time people reach the hospital with shortness of breath symptoms, they have to be put on a ventilator. To treat people earlier, Levitan recommends the widespread use of pulse oximeters, which can detect oxygenation problems and elevated heart rates.
  • Coronavirus is causing a CO2 shortage, which is bad for the water supply: The Guardian reports that a Washington state emergency planning document points to difficulties obtaining carbon dioxide gas, which is essential for water treatment. The cause is the drop in ethanol production, of which CO2 is a byproduct. There are some arguments that this could also affect preserved food and beer production down the line.
  • There are too many tests and not enough at the same time: As FiveThirtyEight reports, not enough Americans are getting tested. This is despite the fact that there are now 57 different tests granted emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration and more than 190 laboratories are conducting those tests. Hundreds more are in development. One of the issues is that these tests require manpower, time, and chemicals — for all of which there’s not always consistent supply.
  • How many people have Covid-19 and don’t know it?: Recent analysis from Scripps Research suggests that based on available data, it appears that the proportion of people infected with coronavirus who have no symptoms is around 40% worldwide.

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Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that