Reinfection reports are still rare but steadily growing around the world, and they’re likely underreported.
A man wearing a protective face mask walks past an illustration of a virus outside Oldham Regional Science Centre on November 24, 2020 in Oldham, United Kingdom. More countries are noticing repeat COVID-19 cases, and such accounts show that recovering from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus isn’t an excuse to flout health rules while the pandemic is in full swing. Photograph by Christopher Furlong, Getty Images
Sarah Elizabeth Richards, Nsikan Akpan
People can catch COVID-19 twice. That’s the emerging consensus among health experts who are learning more about the possibility that those who’ve recovered from the coronavirus can get it again. So far, the phenomenon doesn't appear to be widespread—with a few hundred reinfection cases reported worldwide—yet those numbers are likely to expand as the pandemic continues.
Identifying reinfections is tricky: Not only does it take a while for subsequent bouts to show up, health departments must make sure that alleged cases really are reinfections because coronavirus residue can linger for weeks. For example, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban made headlines just before Thanksgiving when he tested positive for a second time. But it is unclear if he was truly reinfected because of a blindspot in how officials screened for cases during his first episode back in October.
Because COVID-19 reinfections are still relatively rare, they can’t be blamed for the ongoing surges. Still, these incidents could be unwelcome news for coronavirus veterans who have been hoping their experience might have given them a so-called immunity passport. Such accounts show that recovering from the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus isn’t an excuse to shed masks and flout social-distancing rules while the pandemic is in full swing. In October, an 89-year-old Dutch woman was the first documented death of someone who had contracted the coronavirus a second time. Read more >>