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VERIFY: Yes, you can get COVID-19 twice, but experts say it's rare

As reports of people in the United States catching COVID-19 twice have circulated worldwide, social media posts have questioned whether this is possible.

SPOKANE, Wash. — As scientists around the globe scramble to produce a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, stories of people being re-infected by the virus are starting to emerge.

A man in Nevada appears to be the first known case of a person in the United States being infected twice with COVID-19.

Recently, a KREM 2 viewer reached out to the Verify team to ask, “If you get the coronavirus and you get over it, can you get it a second time?

Sources

To Verify this question, we to reached out to Dr. Mark Kortepeter, infectious disease expert with more than 20 years working in public health. Dr. Kortepeter is also a retired Army Colonel and biodefense expert.

KREM 2 also spoke with the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at the University of Washington Medical Center, Dr. Seth Cohen.

Can you get COVID-19 twice?

“The short answer is, yes they can,” Dr. Kortepeter said when asked if people could be re-infected with COVID-19. 

“There’s actually a couple of recent case reports in the literature. You know, they’re individual reports where they actually, definitively verified that these individuals were infected twice,” he said.

When asked the same question, Dr. Cohen said, “It’s possible to get re-infected, but its is a very, very rare event and in general that most people develop a fairly robust immune response after being infected with COVID the first time around.”

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While both doctors said it’s possible to get COVID-19 twice, based on what we know so far about the virus right now, it’s also rare. 

According to Dr. Cohen, in most of the re-infection cases the patient was either asymptomatic or had only mild symptoms the second time around.

“It’s important to keep these [re-infection cases] in context. You know, this is the most studied virus in history with millions of cases around the world that have been documented and so it’s not completely unexpected to have re-infection," Dr. Cohen said.

But, what does the possibility of re-infection mean for immunity to COVID-19, and for a vaccine? Dr. Cohen said based on what he’s seen, he’s optimistic.

“In general, the vast majority of evidence that I’ve seen about immunity after COVID infection makes me very, very optimistic that we will eventually be able to develop an effective vaccine,” Cohen said.

In the meantime, both doctors stress that your best defense is to take precautions like wearing a mask and washing your hands. It’ll help protect you from getting COVID-19, or getting it again.

Dr. Kortepeter said, “Even if someone’s already been infected, it’s important to still follow some of the public health measures because it potentially protects you for getting re-infected.”

Verdict

We can verify that it is possible to get COVID-19 twice, but at this point, experts said the data suggests that it is rare.