The Latest: The truth about superspreaders

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
3 min readJun 5, 2020


Dear Reader,

At this point in the pandemic, we actually know a lot more about the novel coronavirus than we did in the beginning. There are still a lot of unknowns, but the virus is no longer a complete mystery. Here are a few recent findings to get you up to speed:

1️⃣ People are very contagious before they have symptoms. This is what makes the virus unique from other viruses and hard to control.

2️⃣ “Superspreaders” — more on them below — are believed to account for some 80% of infections.

3️⃣ If you get the virus, the symptoms can last for a very long time. Sometimes months. Even if you don’t have a severe case.

All of this is to say the same rules still apply: Distancing is important if you can, but so is getting tested for the virus if you think you’ve been exposed (and isolating if you’re positive). Tests are much more widely available now. Seek them out.

What else is new:

  • Case count: There are over 1.8 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and over 6.6 million confirmed cases worldwide. So far, over 108,200 Americans have died from Covid-19.
  • Two major Covid-19 studies are retracted: Studies published in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine were retracted after it was discovered that the data used was highly questionable (and the company that provided the data may also be suspect). Read more.
  • George Floyd tested positive for Covid-19: Full autopsy results for Floyd were released on Wednesday and disclosed he had tested positive for Covid-19 in early April. Read more.
  • More hydroxychloroquine bad news: A study released on Wednesday found the malaria drug did not prevent Covid-19 in a study of 821 people who had been exposed to people infected with the virus. Read more.

Follow our Medium Coronavirus Blog for regular updates, and read some of the essential stories we’ve curated below.

Be well,

Alexandra Sifferlin
Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog

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A quick Q&A: What are superspreaders?

Individuals who are responsible for a large number of Covid-19 infections are called “superspreaders,” and data increasingly shows that they play a key role in the pandemic. As Robert Roy Britt reports for Elemental, superspreaders may or may not know they are sick, but by going to highly dense places, they can cause outbreaks in which dozens or even hundreds of other newly infected people continue to spread the disease among family, friends, or colleagues — all before anyone knows they’re infected. There’s no magic bullet to stop superspreader events, but prevention — like distancing — goes a long way.

Read the full story here.

New on the blog

George Floyd’s Positive Covid-19 Test Sadly Illustrates the ‘Pandemic Within a Pandemic’

Cities Are Shutting Down Some Covid-19 Testing Because of Protests

The Bizarre Case of the Sketchy Covid-19 Dataset

You Can Stay Safe From Covid-19 and Peacefully Protest Racism

Essential explainers

Could the Coronavirus Be Weakening as It Spreads?

Getting the Coronavirus Twice Is Highly Unlikely (in the Short Term)

The Science of Superspreaders

Why Covid-19 Might Never Go Away

Covid-19 Can Last for Several Months (The Atlantic)

Insights from around the world

🇮🇹 What I’ve Learned From Being in Italy During Coronavirus

🇰🇷 Life Feels Safe in South Korea Right Now

🇳🇿 How New Zealand Crushed the Curve

🇸🇪 Man Behind Sweden’s Controversial Virus Strategy Admits Mistakes (Bloomberg)

Smart reads

Amazon Is Really Interested in the Blood of Covid-19 Patients

Tear Gas and Coronavirus Are a Dangerous Mix

Governments and WHO Changed Covid-19 Policy Based on Suspect Data From Tiny U.S. Company (The Guardian)

Genes May Leave Some People More Vulnerable to Severe Covid-19 (The New York Times)

Sometimes a ‘Good Death’ Is the Best a Doctor Can Offer



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