The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: 17 Days,
Peak in 3 Weeks, Crocodile

Donavyn Coffey

March 27, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's  Coronavirus Resource Center.

This week, mainstream news reported that coronavirus was detected on a cruise ship 17 days after passengers with the virus left the ship, a man who breached quarantine was eaten by a crocodile, and that peak coronavirus deaths are expected in 3 weeks. Medscape Medical News didn't cover these stories. Here's why.

17 Days Later

In mid-February, the Carnival-owned Diamond Princess cruise ship had the largest outbreak of coronavirus infections outside of mainland China. This week, public health researchers published a report on COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships, including the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was detected on cabin surfaces of infected passengers with and without symptoms 17 days after everyone disembarked from the Diamond Princess.

Mainstream media reported this finding as though the viral RNA was still capable of infecting people after 17 days on a surface — nearly six times longer than the CDC's original estimates of 2 to 3 days. This is not the case. The CDC report cautions that the presence of viral RNA is not evidence that the virus was transmitted from these surfaces. As one Medscape editor put it, "PCR [polymerase chain reaction] detection of viral RNA is like an X-ray of a body showing a bone — it tells you nothing about whether the virus or body is alive."

Although the report offered insights into asymptomatic infections and transmission that you can read about here, the "17 days" figure doesn't really provide any information about how long the virus is infectious, which is what healthcare workers really want to know.

Coronavirus Deaths Predicted to Peak in 3 Weeks

An epidemiologist at the University of Florida and partner to the CDC, Ira Longini, PhD, predicts that COVID-19 deaths will peak in the US within 2 to 3 weeks, according to news reports. The prediction is based on disease modeling, and President Trump and other leaders have stated that if the worst truly is over within the coming weeks, low-risk persons could go back to work within the month. While there are disease specialists that agree with Longini's predictions, others say that it's a big risk to assume too early that we're seeing the worst of the virus.

Disease modelers have offered many predictions about how long the outbreak will last, and some say the peak impact of COVID-19 is months away. From the news reports, Longini's prediction appears to be his educated guess, without a reference to a more complete analysis or peer-reviewed paper. While we appreciate the insights of some of the world's leading experts and statisticians, we would want to see the methodology and understand its assumptions before we covered this particular projection.

Man Broke Quarantine, Killed by Crocodile

The government of Rwanda placed all of the country's 12 million citizens under lockdown on Sunday as COVID-19 cases continued to rise. On Wednesday morning, a man who broke the country's stay-at-home order to go fishing was killed and eaten by a crocodile, according to news reports.

“He's among very few people here who are not cooperating with the lockdown to stop the [corona]virus," the local mayor told BBC.

This is certainly a tragic accident, and news outlets have reported other instances of Rwandans struggling with the strict government lockdown. However, we didn't feel this information was pertinent for busy clinicians trying to focus on how to better test for, treat, and monitor the coronavirus.

Donavyn Coffey is a freelance journalist in New York City. She interned for Medscape in the fall of 2019.

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