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Airport Screeners Are Likely Missing 2 Out of 3 COVID-19 Carriers, Researchers Warn

By David Jagielski – Feb 26, 2020 at 2:57PM

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Attempts to stem the spread of the coronavirus by checking travelers for symptoms will be stymied by its long incubation time.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are now more than 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, about 78,000 of them in China. The WHO categorizes the global risk from the virus as high, recognizing the potential for the outbreak to spread further.

One way that governments have been trying to prevent that is via screening travelers at airports, but researchers estimate that those airport screenings won't catch two-thirds of people carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can take up to 14 days for a person who is infected with the virus to show symptoms of COVID-19, meaning they could travel unnoticed during that incubation period.

Using computer models, researchers from the U.K. and the U.S. have estimated that even under best-case scenarios, airport screeners will miss 53% of cases. The study's lead author, Katelyn Gostic, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, says that screenings may not be effective and that "governments should be thinking about pandemic mitigation." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is already warning Americans that they should expect the virus to spread across the U.S., and that it could cause significant disruption.

Woman wearing surgical mask.

Image source: Getty Images.

A number of biotech companies are working feverishly to find ways to treat the virus, as well as vaccines that could prevent it. Gilead Sciences' (GILD -1.60%) antiviral remdesivir has shown signs of efficacy in treating COVID-19. That drug got a public vote of confidence earlier this week from WHO Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward, who said, "There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's remdesivir." 

The National Institutes of Health has stated that a trial of remdesivir in COVID-19 patients is already underway at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. 

David Jagielski has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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