Scientists have long speculated that Covid-19 may have arrived in the U.S. and Europe long before the virus was discovered and announced in Wuhan, China. And at the end of November 2020, a new government study of blood samples collected between December 13, 2019, and January 17, 2020, by the American Red Cross proved that Covid-19 has indeed been in the U.S. as early as the 2019 Christmas season.
The study went over 7,389 blood samples provided by the Red Cross and of them, 106 had antibodies for SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19. This is only a 1.4% positivity rate but it still proves that the virus has been in the U.S. for a long time before December 13, 2019, for it to spread that much.
39 samples came from California, Oregon, and Washington in December while another 67 samples came from Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin in early January.
“The findings of this report suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infections may have been present in the U.S. in December 2019, earlier than previously recognized,” according to the paper.
It is intuitively logical that the virus didn’t “come into existence” on the day of its announcement by the Chinese authorities – it’s impossible for scientists to notice a microscopic virus as soon as it appears in someone.
The theory was also supported by scientists in France as early as May 2020, when antibodies for the virus were discovered in the blood sample of a 42-year-old French fishmonger in December 2019.
“Identifying the first infected patient is of great epidemiological interest as it changes dramatically our knowledge regarding Sars-CoV-2 and its spreading in the country,” said the head of intensive care at two large Paris hospitals Yves Cohen back then. “Moreover, the absence of a link with China and the lack of recent travel suggest that the disease was already spreading among the French population at the end of December.”
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier also added that “It’s the old story of the deeper you look, the more you find.”
And indeed, the new study by the CDC also confirms that Covid-19 was already a quickly-spreading problem long before it was discovered. “These findings also highlight the value of blood donations as a source for conducting SARS-CoV-2 surveillance studies,” the authors of the study said.
Why does this matter?
Given that it’s already early December 2020 and the numbers now hover around 14 million cases in the U.S. and over 277,000 deaths as well as almost 1.5 million deaths worldwide in less than a year, what does it matter when the disease came to the U.S.?
Admittedly, knowing the exact date of Covid-19’s “arrival” in the U.S. won’t change the current statistics and it won’t bring back the virus’ victims. However, it is important to note this information so that we can be better prepared to react to the next similar public health crisis.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus may have arrived in the U.S. before the end of 2019 and it was indeed impossible to act that soon. However, this only means that it was even more crucial for U.S. authorities to act as soon as they discovered the presence of the virus within the country.
And yet, on February 7, 2020, President Trump told Bob Woodward in a private interview that he was aware of the virus and that “It moves rapidly, Bob. It moves rapidly and viciously. If you’re the wrong person and if it gets you, your life is pretty much over if you’re in the wrong group.”
But on February 26, President Trump was still boasting that “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” This type of “downplaying” messaging from the White House continued for months when comprehensive action needed to be taken long before that. Instead, all the Trump administration did was a partial travel “ban” that experts say has proven to be ineffective.
It may be late to change that now but it’s something we should at least learn from.