Hidden spread of coronavirus makes precautions indispensable

The recently concluded Estonia-wide wave of the coronavirus prevalence study led by the University of Tartu indicates that the virus is also spreading outside the known outbreaks and mostly covertly, that is without notable symptoms. This is why it is increasingly important to follow general precautions such as safe distancing and wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces.

2,532 people were tested from 21 September to 1 October. The researchers detected five infected people who did not have notable symptoms and were not aware of any contacts with virus carriers. Thus, the researchers estimate that there may be 800–5,200 infected persons among Estonian adult population in total.

The leader of the study, Professor of Family Medicine of the University of Tartu Ruth Kalda said the current number of infected people is comparable to the end of April, although the detected cases are less severe. “Compared to spring, the general testing capacity has significantly improved. Much more people get tested now and the general message is that people must contact their family doctor even with the mildest symptoms. This is why we find more people with mild symptoms also in our study,” Kalda explained.

Precautions are taken less seriously

In the study, the testing was preceded by interviews in which people were also asked what they have done to prevent possible infection. Professor Ruth Kalda said that precautions are taken less seriously compared to the first months of the pandemic. For instance, purposeful avoidance of direct contacts has decreased both among young and middle-aged population. These age groups are now also less prone to follow the safe distancing rule. “While in the waves of April and May we saw people diligently adhering to the safe distancing rule, in September, only one third of subjects reported that,” Kalda explained.

Kalda emphasises that as the study shows a hidden spread of the virus, the best way to protect oneself is to follow precautions. “Many infected people may not even be aware of their infection and thus do not know to avoid contacts. This is why it is reasonable to strongly recommend wearing masks in public transport and public places, especially indoor spaces where keeping a safe distance is not possible”, said Kalda. It is also helpful to use the HOIA mobile app that rapidly informs of possible close contact with a virus carrier.

The study is conducted by researchers of the University of Tartu in partnership with Kantar Emor, Medicum Eriarstiabi and SYNLAB Eesti.

For more information about the study, see the University of Tartu web page.

Further information: Ruth Kalda, Head of the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, Professor of Family Medicine, 5698 5599, ruth.kalda@ut.ee

Sandra Sommer Press Adviser Tel: +(372) 737 5681
Mob: +(372) 5307 7820 sandra.sommer@ut.ee