Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine

The true number of people with COVID-19 is likely far larger than the number of people who have tested positive, says Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at Maricopa County Department of Public Health, durng a webinar.

While Maricopa County has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 positive cases that has landed it in the national spotlight as a “hot spot,” that is only part of the story.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at Maricopa County Department of Public Health, told reporters last week as many as 10 times the number of people who have tested positive may be infected by the coronavirus.

“Recent studies show for every one positive case reported to U.S. health departments, there are likely nine more cases that officials don’t know about,” Sunenshine said

She rejected questions about where people were getting the disease.

“By the time someone gets tested and is reported to public health, that person has been exposing other people for a week or more, often,” she said. “By spending time going backward to figure out the one place they’ve gotten — it doesn’t make sense because we know there’s COVID-19 is all over the community.” 

Contact tracing, she said, “works best when there are fewer cases and no community spread. What makes COVID-19 more challenging is the virus’ contagiousness, and because people can infect others with the virus before they begin to show symptoms and sometimes if they have no symptoms at all.”

She said that, similar to national trends, more people younger than 44 are getting COVID-19.

“If you are younger and healthy, it may be tempting to (think) it’s just a mild illness and you’ll get over it,” Sunenshine said.

But, she noted, younger people have been sick enough from COVID-19 to be hospitalized.

“You can be healthy and still be severely impacted by (COVID-19) . . . And you are just as likely to spread the illness to someone around you. They could be hospitalized or even die from the illness you gave them,” she said.

After saying the county is hoping to reduce wait times of “10 days or even longer to get lab results,” Sunenshine again declined to give specific locations, but added a general note:

“The place we think you are most likely to get COVID-19 is groups of 10 or more,” she said.

“Where people are eating, drinking, talking, singing - those things that would produce droplets.”