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To dial down the U.S. spread of the novel coronavirus, identifying the so-called “asymptomatics” may be the name of the game. The formula is: Test, test, test, then do “contact tracing” and mandate those who are positive into a 14-day quarantine. Subjects should emerge from a home stay only after testing negative three days in a row.

Of those who contract the virus, most will show symptoms only after a couple of weeks. And almost half will never show any symptoms at all but nonetheless be carriers of the disease and apt to convey it to others.

One phenomenon that routinely seems to be escaping public understanding is that of the asymptomatics. This oversight goes far toward explaining the way so many citizens these days are letting down their guard, forgoing their masks in public places, treating the deadly virus as if it were already retreating.

In effect, many by their behavior appear to be saying, “Hey, I’m healthy enough. I can risk being out and not wear a stupid mask all the time.”

Healthy you may be, but that will not prevent you from becoming a carrier of COVID-19 and, through a cough, a sneeze, a laugh or even just your breath infecting a passerby or fellow shopper.

That victim of your carelessness may harbor an underlying condition such as diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease, fall prey to the virus and die in an ICU bay, on a ventilator and all alone. Same story if the other person is 65 or older.

This virus is highly infectious — apparently far more so than the typical annual flu. And we know it is conveyed from person to person through the air, or through touching a surface where infected droplets have fallen, then touching your face.

We do not know how long droplets from a person’s nose or mouth may remain suspended in the air, just how far those droplets may travel before falling to the ground — estimates are anywhere from 6 to 14 feet — nor how long droplets may stay infectious after settling on a surface, whether that be money or counters or walls.

It has been reliably reported that quantity matters. A good resounding sneeze can apparently put up to 40,000 virus-laden droplets in the air. Easy to see how spaces such as subway cars or airplanes or a classroom can facilitate the spread of the potentially lethal novel coronavirus.

Social distancing is a key element in holding down transmissions of the disease. Six feet or more is the recommended distance we should all put between ourselves and others in public places. This will be the space to observe as church services reopen all over West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

It is nearly impossible to keep this distance between fellow shoppers at Walmart or Kroger or other retail outlets, but do not linger in another’s presence. Move on down the aisle. For this reason, wear a mask to protect others. And others will wear masks to protect you.

Finally, do not neglect hand washing with hot water and soap for 20 seconds each time. Especially after touching surfaces in public or being around others.

John Patrick Grace formerly covered health care for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He is now a Huntington-based book editor and teaches The Life Writing Class.

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