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COVID-19 Spreading at All-Time High in Symptom-Free People


Going out for dinner with friends? Enjoy your evening, but know your risk and plan accordingly. Right now, one in six people in our area has COVID-19 with no symptoms, according to data collected by Memorial Health.

That means if your restaurant choice has 50 patrons, approximately eight have COVID-19 and are unaware of it. Eight people out enjoying their dinner with no idea they are contagious to those around them.

“This figure represents a new high-water mark for COVID-19’s spread among people who are free of symptoms,” said Lance Millburg, system administrator for Memorial Health Quality and Performance Improvement. “Our research underscores how rapidly the omicron variant is dispersing through our community.”

How does this compare to the high marks of past surges? During the summer 2021 surge, one in 40 symptom-free people carried COVID-19; during the 2020 fall surge, it was one in 16.

“No one would willingly spread a potentially deadly virus to their loved ones,” said Dr. Raj Govindaiah, senior vice president and chief physician executive for Memorial Health. “Yet that’s what some symptom-free people are doing – at an alarming rate – when they carry the COVID-19 virus and don’t regularly wear masks and practice social distancing.”

What does that mean from a practical perspective? Social distance, wear a mask at all times in public, and most importantly, schedule that booster vaccine or your initial vaccinations if you are unvaccinated, Govindaiah said.

To reach these findings, Memorial Health performs outpatient COVID-19 tests in patients scheduled for procedures ahead of their surgeries. These individuals are generally symptom-free and represent a sampling of central Illinois’ “healthy” population.

In the first week of January, 17% of a sample of over 900 individuals tested positive for COVID-19. This means that up to one in six individuals were actively shedding COVID-19 in the community without showing any symptoms. For perspective, on average the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 was 2.6% based on over 65,000 tests. The previous high was 6% in November 2021.

“This means that you’re three times more likely to be exposed to someone with COVID-19 in public in our community than any previous surge,” Millburg said.