Coronavirus was spreading in the US by December 17, study finds

Coronavirus was spreading in the US by December 17 – WEEKS before China admitted that people there were being infected by a new virus, antibody testing of donated blood finds

  • CDC scientists discovered antibodies to coronavirus in 106 samples taken from blood donated by more than 7,300 Americans in December and January 
  • Of donations made between December 13 and December 16, 39 were positive, including samples from California, Washington and Oregon 
  • Another 67 samples from donations made from December 30 and January 17 in the Midwest and Northeast were also positive 
  • China did not report the new virus to the CDC until December 31, and the first U.S. case was confirmed on January 19   

Coronavirus was likely spreading in much of the U.S. last December – weeks before China told the officially recognized the new virus, a new study suggests. 

Blood collected by the Red Cross between December 13 and January 17 was later sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be tested for antibodies to coronavirus. 

Testing revealed antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 in 39 samples from blood donated between December 13 and December 16. Those donations were made in California, Oregon, and Washington. 

Another 67 samples taken between December 30 and January 17 from donors in the Midwest and Northeast were positive for antibodies, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

It comes as documents leaked to CNN reveal that China underreported the number of infections there by the thousands, and made ‘politically motivated errors in how they handled it,’ Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the outlet.

CDC scientists found coronavirus antibodies in 1.4% of samples taken from blood Americans donated to the Red Cross between December 13 and January 17 

The first U.S. case of coronavirus was not reported until January 19.  

It was only 12 day earlier, on January 8, that the World Health Organization (WHO) said the bizarre pneumonia sickening people in China was likely caused by an altogether new virus.  

Chinese authorities have notified the WHO of a cluster of unexplained illnesses on December 31.  The virus was isolated and its genetic makeup was sequence by January 7. 

At that time, both the Chinese government and the WHO were urging calm, insisting that the virus was only spreading from people who had symptoms and did not pose a major threat to people outside China’s Hubei Province. 

Even the first case identified in the U.S. – in a Washington state man who had recently returned from China – was not an indication that coronavirus was going to take hold in the U.S., officials said at the time. 

We now know that it already was taking hold. 

Previous genetic sequencing studies have shown that coronavirus was likely already on both coasts of the U.S. by mid- to late-January, starting to circulate in broader communities in February. 

But testing of blood donated to the Red Cross confirms what the studies of coronavirus genomes suggested: COVID-19 was here, long before Americans knew it. 

The new study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, tested samples from 7,389 blood donations for antibodies to the virus. 

Antibodies were present in 106 – 1.4 percent – of the donations collected between mid-December and mid-January. 

The use of antibodies to assess how prevalent the virus is has been questioned. 

Antibodies fade over time, with some studies suggesting that they become undetectable within two or three months of infection.  

There is also the possibility that blood could react to testing if someone had antibodies to one of the hundreds of other types of coronaviruses in the environment. 

But 90 of the Red Cross samples were tested for antibodies very specific to SARS-CoV-2 – immune proteins that the scientists had made sure were not cross-reactive with test for other coronaviruses. 

Of the 90, 84 samples were positive for these very specific antibodies. 

In the batch of samples taken from later blood donations – made between December 17 and December 30, the scientist found that 67 were positive for coronavirus antibodies. 

These samples came from donors in Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin or Iowa and Connecticut or Rhode Island. 

So not only was coronaviru already on the West Coast before the first U.S. case was confirmed there, it was already in states on the other side of the country before the Washington patient was identified.  


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