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Study: Many Thousands More Mass. Residents Likely Contracted Coronavirus Than Official Count

A Massachusetts General Hospital researcher registers the name of a Chelsea resident at a pop-up testing site in Bellingham Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A Massachusetts General Hospital researcher registers the name of a Chelsea resident at a pop-up testing site in Bellingham Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A significantly larger number of Massachusetts residents may have contracted the coronavirus than official state numbers show, according to a new model from British researchers at the Imperial College London.

Released late last week, the public research university's study finds it is likely that 13% of the state's population has been infected with the virus.

That's nearly 900,000 people — and over 800,000 more residents than the total reported by the state. As of Sunday, the state's figure stands at 92,675 coronavirus cases in Massachusetts.

Boston Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. Davidson Hamer said he agrees the state's number likely isn't accurate — especially considering earlier testing limitations.

"Many people were told if you weren't very sick, 'Stay at home and just recover,' and I think that between that population and those that had asymptomatic infections, the total of cases in the state has been much higher than we have counted," he said.

He cautioned, however, that similar to basically any other model, the researchers' estimates in the recent report are based on its evaluation of the state's ongoing measures to control the virus. Hamer said that he believes it's likely the actual case count would fall somewhere between the number in the university study and the state's current figure.

Hamer said the only way to know more would be for state officials or researchers to conduct a large, population-based serological test that identifies those who show evidence of recent infection.

"That said, I definitely think the numbers are much higher than the 90,000 or so [the state has] documented," he added.

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