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New study reveals how many people really had COVID-19 in 2020

About 31% of the U.S. population had COVID-19 at some point in 2020

A man gets a COVID-19 test in Utah.
A man gets a COVID-19 test at Pleasant Grove Recreation Center on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. About 1 in 3 Americans had COVID-19 by the end of 2020, according to a new study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

About 1 in 3 Americans had COVID-19 by the end of 2020, according to a new study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The study — which was peer-reviewed and recently published in the medical journal Nature — found that about 103 million Americans — or about 31% of the American population — was infected with the coronavirus by the end of 2020.

  • That means that fewer than 22% of the cases were accounted for through public health reports.
  • The study — for which researchers modeled the spread of the coronavirus — was one of the first to look at how far the virus spread.

Some other additional facts of the study

  • There were more infections in parts of the country, like the Midwest, which saw about 60% of its people infected by the end of 2020, according to the study.
  • Testing identified a number of growing infections but it didn’t offer a complete picture because not everyone got tested. This might be because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said those with COVID-19 symptoms did not need to get tested back in August 2020, per The New York Times.
  • About 1 in 130 patients were contagious with COVID-19 by the end of 2020.

Researchers are hoping to use this data to assess what happens next in 2021 as the coronavirus continues to spread, creating severe illness and breakthrough infections. Indeed, the coronavirus is spreading fast in the U.S. right now. Per Reuters, there are currently 100,000 people hospitalized with the virus, which is the highest level in eight months.

  • “While the landscape has changed with the availability of vaccines and the spread of new variants, it is important to recognize just how dangerous the pandemic was in its first year,” said Sen Pei, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in a statement.