36% of Homeless in Boston Test Positive for COVID-19

Now that scientists and researchers are learning more and more about the particulars of the COVID-19 outbreak, some disconcerting trends have begun to emerge. Readers are probably already well aware of the reports from New York City doctors about the prevalence of coronavirus in women who gave birth in their hospitals during early April and late March.

Researchers have also made a very alarming discovery in the city of Boston. The homeless population has been tested for the coronavirus and the findings are alarming. While 36 percent of the Boston homeless population has tested positive for the virus, there are also a large number of asymptomatic patients.

This leads to our next question: how many of the people who have been tested did not have any symptoms and how many experienced symptoms after the testing took place? We already knew that everyone who becomes infected has an asymptomatic period. On the other hand, we do not know how many of these patients remain asymptomatic after the infection has begun to progress.

83 percent of the Boston homeless population that tested positive did not show any symptoms. These numbers are roughly in line with the amount of infected pregnant women in New York City. New York and Boston researchers also performed their tests with the use of the same nose and throat swabs. PCR tests are used to detect whether the coronavirus is present in the person at that exact moment.

Some members of each testing group may have already had the virus and been fully recovered. That means that it would have left their systems by the time the tests were performed. In order to make a proper detection, an antibody test would be needed. When we are searching for evidence about the number of Americans who have had the disease and did not know it, these tests are something that needs to be considered.

There are other questions that have been raised by these results. Are they truly representative of the United States population? Pregnant women might not be the best way to measure the spread of the virus in the average American. Since these women are spending more time in doctor’s offices than most people, they have a higher risk of exposure to the virus.

Pregnant women are also more likely to experience complications with their immune system. The homeless population is also not the best way to measure things. These people reside in close quarters, where disease is going to spread far more quickly. Even if the homeless do not reside in a shelter, they are spending far more time in enclosed spaces.

This allows the virus to spread rapidly and that’s why these numbers are probably not indicative of the American population as a whole. The homeless are spending much of their time in soup kitchens and they are also panhandling on a regular basis. Both of these practices are bound to lead a higher rate of infection in any population.

As of April 4, a total of 1221 of 9199 persons (13.3%) who were recruited for targeted testing had positive results for infection with SARS-CoV-2. Of those tested in the general population, 87 (0.8%) in the open-invitation screening and 13 (0.6%) in the random-population screening tested positive for the virus. In total, 6% of the population was screened. Most persons in the targeted-testing group who received positive tests early in the study had recently traveled internationally, in contrast to those who tested positive later in the study. Children under 10 years of age were less likely to receive a positive result than were persons 10 years of age or older, with percentages of 6.7% and 13.7%, respectively, for targeted testing; in the population screening, no child under 10 years of age had a positive result, as compared with 0.8% of those 10 years of age or older. Fewer females than males received positive results both in targeted testing (11.0% vs. 16.7%) and in population screening (0.6% vs. 0.9%). The haplotypes of the sequenced SARS-CoV-2 viruses were diverse and changed over time. The percentage of infected participants that was determined through population screening remained stable for the 20-day duration of screening.

The homeless also have poor nutrition habits and are more likely to have poor health in a general sense. While there are some who will view this information in a negative light, this could spell great news for those who are looking for positive signs. If the homeless population and pregnant women are generating these types of results, we can start to breathe a very small sigh of relief.

The spike of the disease across the entire population might not be as significant as we had originally feared. That does not mean that we should be relaxing the social distancing guidelines that have been put into place but it does give us something positive that we can build on going forward.

If the results out of Boston and New York are encouraging, you are definitely going to want to find out more about the study that is taking place in Major League Baseball. They are in the process of testing 10,000 employees from every branch of their organizations. In order to provide helpful forecasts, researchers need to know how far the virus has progressed. This lets them know when it will be safe to open the economy.

Studies like these also let us know more about the prevalence of the virus among the rest of the population. We are also curious about the rates of infection in various regions. New York is obviously going to have a higher rate of infection than Iowa but there is much to be learned about regional disparities. Healthcare workers must also be studied, so that we can learn more about the percentage of staffers that have had the virus.