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The Supposed Symptoms of the Coronavirus

It’s tempting to latch onto any way to spot this virus. But so much of this is speculative and won’t pan out.

“A small but important subset of people with the coronavirus also really hate puppies.” That’s what I keep thinking to myself as I see story after story linking various, so-called surprising symptoms to COVID-19: pinkeyeloss of hearingloss of smellbrain impairments, and “staring off into space.” These pieces provide varying levels of evidence, from a Twitter dispatch to a patient to surveys conducted by researchers to propose that the mere correlations their authors are writing about might actually have some sort of firm, causative relationship.

Each of these symptoms lacks substantial peer-reviewed evidence connecting them to the novel coronavirus; at best, there are a couple studies. (Loss of smell has perhaps the strongest case, especially given that it’s an established symptom of regular upper respiratory infections, but even that case is weaker than some of the data circulating suggest.) They all involve doctors and reporters scrambling to make sense of how to spot the novel coronavirus as we experience a shortage of the things that would actually help us spot the novel coronavirus: reliable lab testsconsumer thermometers (fever is a consistent symptom of many cases), and a robust understanding of how pre-symptomatic transmission helps spread the virus.

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