New York coronavirus outbreak originated in Europe, studies show
Research indicates the majority of coronavirus cases in New York trace back to Europe, with the first cases circulating in the area by mid-February.
“The majority is clearly European,” Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and who co-wrote a study currently awaiting peer review, told The New York Times.
A separate research team at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, studying different cases but also analyzing coronavirus genomes taken from New Yorkers beginning in mid-March, reached similar conclusions, the Times reported.
The virus is believed to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China, and President Trump has frequently touted his order on Jan. 31 barring foreign nationals who had been in China in the past two weeks from entering the U.S., but New Yorkers had already been traveling home from Europe when the president barred travel from most of Europe as Italy became the epicenter for the virus on the continent.
Adriana Heguy, a member of the NYU team, told the Times that the research backed up the notion that the U.S. could have contained the outbreak if officials had not limited early testing to just people traveling from China with symptoms.
Heguy told the newspaper that an analysis found some viruses in the New York area had unique mutations not found elsewhere in common. “That’s when you know you’ve had a silent transmission for a while,” she told the Times.
Researchers at Mount Sinai began sequencing the genomes of new patients and found New York’s earliest identified cases were not linked to more recent ones, but “two weeks later, we start seeing viruses related to each other,” Ana Silvia Gonzalez-Reiche, a member of the Mount Sinai team, told the Times.
Gonzalez-Reiche and her team determined the viruses in question were almost identical to those found throughout Europe, and while they could not pin down which flight brought individual viruses to New York, the data indicates “a period of untracked global transmission between late January to mid-February.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday reported New York’s biggest single-day death toll from the virus, with 779. As of Wednesday afternoon, 6,268 New Yorkers have died from the virus.