1 in 20 people have asymptomatic COVID-19, Dallas doctor says

While many people are looking forward to the Fourth of July weekend, doctors and nurses are looking at it with a sense of dread.

A lead doctor at Parkland said their data shows a disturbing trend. 

They are seeing a large spike in the number of people who are carrying and spreading the COVID-19 without even knowing it.

As some families are likely planning small family gatherings for the Fourth of July, there is new data to think about.

Testing of people coming in for elective surgeries shows an alarming 5 percent of the population is carrying coronavirus and spreading it without even knowing it.

The fireworks will go on at extravaganzas like Kaboomtown and Fort Worth's Fourth, but the large gatherings are canceled this year.

Even so, the holiday weekend is a concern for doctors.

“You're right about July 4th coming up, making us all nervous,” Parkland Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Chang said.

Some experts are still worried about an explosion in COVID-19 cases.

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That's because of a huge increase in the number of people carrying the virus without knowing it.

Dr. Chang has been watching the numbers of asymptomatic people carrying the coronavirus increase by 800 percent in just one month.

“Five percent of people who come in and get tested for various reasons, who do not have symptoms, you can't tell they are sick, they can't tell they are sick. Five percent of them are positive,” Dr. Chang said. “What that means is 1 in 20 people are walking around out there in DFW right now with no symptoms who really are infected.”

That is why Dr. Chang said it is not just large crowds he's concerned about.

It's also gatherings of extended family members, like the type of gatherings over Memorial Day weekend at North Texas lakes.

“Any time a group gathers, and at this point it is 20 or more, you know, there is at least one person in that group that has COVID-19 coronavirus inside their bodies and it is possible for them to spread it,” Dr. Chang explained. 

He added that while the number of positive cases can be impacted by the number of tests being conducted, health officials are more concerned about the increase in hospitalizations.

“These are not just cases we're finding, these are people who are sick enough to be in a hospital. That is really what we are watching and charting here,” Dr. Chang said.

Data provided by the city of Dallas shows the increase.

Back on April 1, city hospitals were at 52 percent capacity. As of Wednesday, three months later, hospitals have reached 70 percent capacity.

“Put your mask on. It's the only way to prevent it if you are in any of these groups,” Dr. Chang said.

Dallas County officials said doctors are recommending that indoor gatherings be limited to 10 or fewer people.

More than two-thirds of the cases requiring hospitalizations in Dallas County are for people under age 65, and half do not have high risk health conditions.

Many people have been quick to blame protesters for the increase in the number of cases but Dr. Chang said the virus is spreading any time people gather.

He shared the data he’s been collecting at his own hospital.

“Right now I know that over the last month, asymptomatic folks meaning people who don’t know they are infected has gone up from about 0.6% about four weeks ago. Now I’m finding among my patients that I’m seeing 5% of people who come in and get tested for various reasons that do not have symptoms – you can’t tell they’re sick and they can’t tell they’re sick – 5% of them are now positive,” he said.

Dr. Chang said that means about 1 in 20 people are walking around in North Texas right now with no symptoms but are actually infected.

“Any time a group gathers, and at this point it’s any group 20 or more, you know that there’s at least one person in that group that has COVID-19 inside their bodies and it’s possible for them to spread it,” he said. “So I wouldn’t point to protests. I wouldn’t point to church gatherings. I wouldn’t point to soccer games or any of those things specifically. Really, the numbers are going up so quickly that any group of any size can transmit this virus.”

MORE: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases