Story at a glance
- Florida health officials have documented at least 170 COVID-19 patients who reported symptoms between Dec. 31 and Feb. 29.
- French scientists this week say a sample taken from a patient hospitalized on Dec. 27 tested positive for COVID-19.
- Scientists with the University College of London’s Genetics Institute published a study suggesting the coronavirus spread quickly around the world after emerging in China sometime between October and December of last year.
New evidence has emerged suggesting that COVID-19 may have spread out of Wuhan, China, into the United States and other parts of the globe as early as December.
An analysis of data from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) published by The Miami Herald Wednesday shows at least 170 COVID-19 patients reported symptoms between Dec. 31, 2019, and Feb. 29, 2020. The state didn’t officially confirm the first coronavirus cases until March 1.
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.
It was not until Jan. 19 that China confirmed human-to-human spread of the coronavirus and February that testing became available in Florida, meaning state officials did not know about early cases in real time, the Herald notes.
Alberto Moscoso, a Florida DOH spokesperson, told the outlet that many of the patients reported symptoms that started weeks before their confirmatory tests, but said “it cannot be determined definitively if these early symptoms were a result of COVID-19 or other causes.”
In California, state officials are working to pinpoint the earliest cases of COVID-19.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last month ordered medical examiners and coroners across the state to review autopsies dating back to December to “help guide a deeper understanding of when this pandemic really started to impact Californians.”
The move by Newsom came after officials in Santa Clara County said the first American coronavirus deaths occurred weeks earlier than initially thought, on Feb. 6 and 17.
In Europe, French scientists claim to have identified the earliest-known case of COVID-19 in the country.
Doctors from the Groupe Hospitalier Paris Seine in Saint-Denis said this week a sample taken from a 42-year-old man who was admitted to an emergency room after coughing up blood and experiencing fever on Dec. 27 tested positive for coronavirus.
The patient, who has since recovered, said he had not travelled abroad.
The man’s admission to the hospital came four days before the first reports of a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan, where the virus originated. This means the virus may have arrived in Europe almost a month earlier than previously thought.
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“It’s really important that we look further into this,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 technical lead, said during a news conference Wednesday. “Some countries may look backwards and may look at some of those samples that were stored in January or in December and may retest those. So it’s possible that we may see some of those samples testing positive for COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, scientists with the University College of London’s Genetics Institute published a study suggesting the coronavirus spread quickly around the world after emerging in China sometime between October and December of last year.
Researchers said most of the virus’ genetic mutations were found in all of the hardest-hit countries, suggesting SARS-CoV-2 was being transmitted around the world early on in the outbreak.
Nearly 3.9 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed with more than 270,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
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