Minnesota Doctor: Coronavirus incubation period longer than we thought


Mask mandates, to go to school or not, fall sports, antibody tests, reopenings, and other news on COVID-19 continues to permeate news cycles and our daily lives, whether you're in Minnesota or anywhere across the country.  As health care leaders and politicians grapple with how to disseminate information, and get people back to a somewhat normal life, new information on how the virus affects patients continues to move those targets.  

In simplest terms, health experts are admitting they don't know much.  

Thursday on the Morning News with Dave Lee, Dr. David Hilden of Hennepin Health Care talked about what they've been learning about coronavirus as we continue to battle this pandemic almost four months into shutdowns.  

On top of that list is news that symptoms have been lasting much longer than the 14 day quarantine, at least in some patients.  Hilden says that 14 day number is the best they can do with what information they currently have.  

"Well, that's the number we're going with," says Hilden. "It's sort of like, that's our story and we're sticking to it. Like I've said before, science changes as new information comes. It's sort of one of the hallmarks of the scientific method. When you get new information, you revise your guidelines and there is some suggestion that it could be longer. We might be learning more in the coming months about the incubation period. There are also people that seem to have it for a longer period of time with, or without symptoms.

"And it's like, holy cow, you've got this thing for weeks. It doesn't clear it as quickly as we thought. So it might be that the incubation period is longer than we thought. And simply the incubation period is the time from when your body encountered the virus to the time that it becomes infectious and leads to symptoms."Even though some who contract the virus have had it longer than 14 days, the average person is still going to see it much sooner according to Hilden."The current thought is that if you didn't get anything in 14 days, you're out of the woods because it would have done something by now," says Dr. Hilden, who is also the host of WCCO's Healthy Matters on Sunday mornings. "And if there is some suggestion that that might not be long enough, it might be even longer. If that's the case, this 14 day quarantine we tell everybody might not be long enough. It's still the average four to five to six to seven days is when most people are getting symptoms from when they were infected. But we'll let you know if that changes in the coming months."

One thing Hilden did make clear is that coronavirus is not just something to be concerning for the elderly.  It's definitely affecting younger people, who then can become carriers without showing any symptoms."The risk of getting the virus is just as high for your 21-year old as it is for your 91-year old. Anybody can get it. In fact, young people are much more likely to get it, probably just because of behaviors and what they're doing in their life. It's the risk of higher of having a severe outcome. It's only like 10 to 20% of the infections are people over 70, but it's 80 to 90% of the deaths."

Hilden did tell WCCO that there is still a simple strategy for fighting the virus.  

"The three things that we know what to do are truly the only effective strategy we have right now. And that's masking, social distancing, and quarantining. If we did those three things, if every 21 year old followed those rules as well as every 81 year old, we would be able to slow this thing down."

The biggest issue right now according to Hilden is that parts of the country have been slow to embrace the things that do slow down the virus.  "That's the discouraging part of where we are as a country. We are simply failing as a nation to do that, but that is what will be required. I don't anticipate a great treatment. There's not going to be a pill you take to make this go away. Criminal viruses, uh, causes is a family of viruses that leads to things like the common cold. If we had a cure for the common cold, we would have told you by now we don't. And so this is another virus similar to the one that causes the cold. It's just that it's way more serious and more, I'm more encouraged by vaccines and social distancing. Those will be our, are our solutions to this thing, longterm, including in young people."