Coronavirus: More questions than answers

COVID-19 reinfection, reality or statistical anomaly?After another resident of a veterans care center in Massa

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COVID-19 reinfection, reality or statistical anomaly?

After another resident of a veterans care center in Massachusetts recently tested positive for the coronavirus a second time, it’s a question state and federal health officials must answer.

“A veteran resident of the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea who was clinically recovered from COVID-19 as per CDC guidance again experienced COVID-related symptoms and was transferred to Cambridge Health Alliance for treatment and tested positive,” according to a statement Monday from the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees the facility.

The positive test came back Saturday. The resident had previously recovered from COVID-19 in May.

Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been vague at best in explaining whether someone who’s fully recovered from COVID-19 can contract the virus again.

In an online post earlier this month, the agency still reiterated it has limited data about reinfection from the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, it did state there haven’t been any reports to date of recurring COVID cases within three months of the initial infection. But it did add the caveat that although no longer contagious, recovered COVID patients could still harbor low levels of the virus for up to three months after being diagnosed.

And considering the ever-evolving nature of this novel virus — combined with the CDC’s propensity to backtrack on previous pronouncements — we all should be skeptical of expert opinions at this stage of the pandemic.

The Chelsea facility wisely has taken additional precautions to control the virus’ spread, including testing all residents who live on the same floor as the positive individual and all staff members with whom that resident had contact.

No additional cases have been identified at this state-run facility, where more than 30 individuals entrusted in its care already have died of the disease.

Nor is this the first report of a veteran resident in a state-run facility testing positive after having clinically recovered from COVID-19. In July, state health officials said a resident of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke tested positive for the disease after having previously recovered.

That facility had one of the deadliest outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the country, with 76 residents dying from COVID-19 and dozens of others and staffers sickened — a tragedy that still cries out for answers.

This troubling development occurs at the same time this country, according to Johns Hopkins University, reached the heartbreaking milestone of 200,000 deaths from this coronavirus — more than any other nation.

Even that stark figure probably underestimates COVID-19’s lethal toll in the U.S., since many deaths, especially at the outset of this scourge, were probably attributed to other causes before the availability of widespread testing.

Massachusetts, the hub of this nation’s medical prowess, has reported 128,000 cases and 9,300-plus deaths.

With less than 5% of the population, this country has amassed more than 20% of the world’s reported fatalities.

And it’s still climbing. With deaths running close to 770 a day, a widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the U.S. toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year, as schools and colleges reopen, coinciding with the onset of cold weather.

And with no vaccine likely to be widely available until sometime next year, common-sense precautions, including social distancing and enhanced hygiene, remain our only COVID-19 defense.

It’s unclear whether COVID-19 reinfection emerges as a major complication, but it serves to further demonstrate the need for a reliable, widely available vaccine.