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- Forty percent of those patients had no known contact with someone infected with the virus, and the majority had not traveled.
- At least 26 people started showing symptoms in late December or January.
- Florida announced the first case on March 1.
The spread of COVID-19 in Florida likely started in January, or possibly as early as December, long before the first case in the state was announced on March 1, according to an analysis from The Miami Herald.
The Herald reports data recently published by the Florida health department shows at least 170 COVID-19 patients reported symptoms between Dec. 31 and Feb. 29.
Of those patients, 40 percent had no apparent contact with someone with the virus, and the majority had not traveled. At least 26 patients started displaying COVID-19 symptoms in late December or January, and at least eight had not traveled and did not have contact with someone who was infected, the Herald reported.
“That’s community spread,” Eric Toner of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told the outlet. “It’s invisible, it’s invisible, it’s invisible, until it’s suddenly obvious.”
The virus spread through Central and North Florida in January when testing wasn’t available and cases might have been mistaken for influenza, the Herald reports. The earliest cases identified by the outlet include Florida residents and visitors from ages 4 to 91, 10 of whom died.
It was not until Jan. 19 that China confirmed human-to-human spread of the coronavirus and not until late February that testing became available in Florida, meaning state officials did not know about early cases in real time, the Herald notes.
Florida announced the first two cases of COVID-19 on March 1, a 29-year-old woman from Hillsborough County who traveled to Italy, and a 63-year-old man from Manatee County.
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“Many of us have long suspected that there were undetected cases in the U.S. long before we had our first confirmed case,” Toner told the Herald. He said the data “helps to explain what appeared to be a sort of explosive outbreak out of nowhere.”
The earliest known COVID-19 death in the U.S. was reported on Feb. 6 in Santa Clara County, Calif.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1, when Florida had almost 8,000 confirmed cases and more than 100 deaths. The Miami Herald notes he denied community spread was occurring in the state up to March 11, several months after residents who had not traveled began contracting COVID-19.
Across the U.S., health officials are searching for evidence that COVID-19 may have killed people as early as November, according to The Wall Street Journal.
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