More evidence suggests COVID-19 was in US by Christmas 2019

Jun 15, 2021, 6:34 AM | Updated: Jun 16, 2021, 1:53 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 — weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials.

The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China.

“The studies are pretty consistent,” said Natalie Thornburg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There was probably very rare and sporadic cases here earlier than we were aware of. But it was not widespread and didn’t become widespread until late February,” said Thornburg, principal investigator of the CDC’s respiratory virus immunology team.

Such results underscore the need for countries to work together and identify newly emerging viruses as quickly and collaboratively as possible, she added.

The pandemic coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Officially, the first U.S. infection to be identified was a traveler — a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought help at a clinic on Jan. 19.

CDC officials initially said the spark that started the U.S. outbreak arrived during a three-week window from mid-January to early February. But research since then — including some done by the CDC — has suggested a small number of infections occurred earlier.

A CDC-led study published in December 2020 that analyzed 7,000 samples from American Red Cross blood donations suggested the virus infected some Americans as early as the middle of December 2019.

The latest study, published Tuesday online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is by a team including researchers at the National Institutes of Health. They analyzed blood samples from more than 24,000 people across the country, collected in the first three months of 2020 as part of a long-term study called “All Of Us” that seeks to track 1 million Americans over years to study health.

Like the CDC study, these researchers looked for antibodies in the blood that are taken as evidence of coronavirus infection, and can be detected as early as two weeks after a person is first infected.

The researchers say seven study participants — three from Illinois, and one each from Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — were infected earlier than any COVID-19 case was originally reported in those states.

One of the Illinois cases was infected as early as Christmas Eve, said Keri Althoff, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

It can be difficult to distinguish antibodies that neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from antibodies that fight other coronaviruses, including some that cause the common cold. Researchers in both the NIH and CDC studies used multiple types of tests to minimize false positive results, but some experts say it still is possible their 2019 positives were infections by other coronaviruses and not the pandemic strain.

“While it is entirely plausible that the virus was introduced into the United States much earlier than is usually appreciated, it does not mean that this is necessarily strong enough evidence to change how we’re thinking about this,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University expert on disease dynamics.

The NIH researchers have not followed up with study participants yet to see if any had traveled out of the U.S. prior to their infection. But they found it noteworthy that the seven did not live in or near New York City or Seattle, where the first wave of U.S. cases were concentrated.

“The question is how did, and where did, the virus take seed,” Althoff said. The new study indicates “it probably seeded in multiple places in our country,” she added.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

In this photo provided by Grand Canyon National Park, an adult bison roams near a corral at the Nor...
Associated Press

Grand Canyon won’t seek volunteers to kill bison this fall

A bison herd that lives almost exclusively in the northern reaches of Grand Canyon National Park won't be targeted for removal this fall.
5 hours ago
A police officer and paramedic give the first aid to a woman wounded by the Russian shelling in cit...
Associated Press

Russia ‘pouring fire’ on Ukrainian city as offensive mounts

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia was mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Luhansk region, “pouring fire” on the city of Lysychansk from the ground and air, the local governor said Monday, as Western leaders met to discuss ways of bolstering support for Kyiv. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said Russian […]
5 hours ago
South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Kore...
Associated Press

Seoul urges China, Russia to prevent North Korean nuke test

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A top South Korean official said Monday that North Korea is increasingly targeting the South with its nuclear arms program, and urged China and Russia to persuade the North not to conduct a widely expected nuclear test. Unification Minster Kwon Youngse’s comments came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un […]
5 hours ago
FILE - Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipline are pictured in Lubmin, ...
Associated Press

EU countries adopt mandatory gas storage amid Russia’s cuts

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries agreed Monday that all natural gas storage in the 27-nation bloc should be topped up to at least 80% capacity for next winter as they prepare for the possibility of Russia further reducing deliveries. The EU is trying to slash its use of Russian energy amid the Kremlin’s war […]
5 hours ago
Water-filled barriers have been installed by police outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition...
Associated Press

Will he go or not? Hong Kong awaits word on Xi Jinping visit

HONG KONG (AP) — Will he go or not? Chinese President Xi Jinping kept Hong Kong guessing on Monday about his possible appearance at the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule. The government has yet to say whether he will be physically present for the events, which include the inauguration […]
5 hours ago
A Norwegian national flag flutters over flowers and rainbow flags that are placed at the scene of a...
Associated Press

Norway: Suspect in deadly Pride shooting agrees to custody

OSLO, Norway (AP) — The suspect in Saturday’s mass shooting during an LGBTQ festival in Oslo has agreed to be held in pretrial custody for four weeks and will therefore not appear in court on Monday, a Norwegian court said. Zaniar Matapour, a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran, was arrested shortly after the predawn […]
5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
More evidence suggests COVID-19 was in US by Christmas 2019