Virus ignited in US no earlier than mid-January, study says

Henrietta Brewer
May 31, 2020

The coronavirus didn't start spreading in the US until late January or early February, the CDC analysis found, and it circulated at low levels for quite some time.

COVID-19 community transmission may have happened as early as January, several weeks before the original official estimate.

In an update on antibody, or serological, testing posted Wednesday, the CDC said that the results from current coronavirus tests may still yield false positives and be too inaccurate to be used in making policy decisions on lifting restrictions aimed on preventing the spread of the virus.

She added: "We still don't know precisely when COVID-19 was first introduced or how many people were infected".

As of Friday, there were more than 1.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US and more than 101,000 deaths. Similar research from Europe indicates the virus could have reached the continent as early as mid-November, at a point when the world had no idea that a new virus was circulating.

Additionally, three separate COVID-19 cases in California confirmed "cryptic circulation of the virus by early February", the CDC authors wrote.

"As America begins to reopen, looking back at how COVID-19 made its way to the United States will contribute to a better understanding to prepare for the future", Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said Friday during a call with reporters. Second, retrospective SARS-CoV-2 testing of approximately 11,000 respiratory specimens from several USA locations beginning January 1 identified no positive results before February 20.

The CDC thinks that a single imported case from China that has not been identified might be responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak that started on the West Coast. "What that can then do is help others who are severely ill".

The CDC retrospectively tested almost 11,000 samples taken from patients suspected to have been infected with the flu.

And, above all, "identify where and how workers might be exposed to Covid-19 at work". That's two days before authorities in California reported community transmission in the state, as a woman who had not traveled outside the country got the virus. It's an indication the spreading may be out of control.

Now, the agency has pooled together the results of coronavirus tests run on nasal mucus samples collected before American health officials knew coronavirus had arrived in the USA and established a new timeline of its spread.

Say goodbye to the office water cooler - USA offices that reopen this year will likely undergo substantial changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"The reality is the surveillance systems that CDC had developed over the years for respiratory viral diseases, particularly the influenza-like illness, really did give us eyes on this disease as it began to emerge", Redfield said.

The CDC said the first step employers should take is to ensure the office is functioning properly and safely.

"That's a preposterous statement", Andersen told Stat referring to Redfield's remark.

The White House announced a ban on travelers from China on January 31, with implementation beginning on February 3. Those early cases were contained, the study says, but containment wasn't possible with later ones.

Peter Kimmel-the publisher of FMLink, a publication for the facilities management industry-similarly said CDC's guidelines are "a good checklist of what needs to be done", but they also raise many questions. Transmission could have started as early as February 7th, or as late as February 19th.

The first identified case of coronavirus in the United States was confirmed on January 21, in a 35-year-old man who had traveled to Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated.

"Limited community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 occurred before the two non-travel associated cases that were reported in late February", Redfield told reporters on Friday.

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