Health officials say that the notion that the first U.S. resident to test positive for coronavirus was Patient Zero is ‘clearly false’, after antibody tests from two Washington residents suggested the virus hit America as early as last year.
Two residents of Snohomish County, which is north of Seattle and was an early hotspot, tested positive for antibodies after falling ill with COVID-19 symptoms in December, reported The Seattle Times.
Those illnesses predated the first confirmed U.S. case, a 50-year-old man who tested positive in Snohomish County on January 20, by nearly a month.
‘Maybe it was that individual that was the first introduction in January, (but) it certainly wasn’t the only one,’ said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. ‘And it’s reasonable to assume, given reports like the ones that we’ve had and others around the country, that introduction may have occurred prior to January, as we initially suspected.’
Two residents of Snohomish County, Washington, reported experiencing symptoms such as fever and coughing in December. Pictured: Medics transport a patient into an ambulance at the Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington, March 12
Recent blood tests revealed they both have antibodies for coronavirus despite the first US case not being confirmed until January 20. Pictured: Su Wilson (left) holds up her phone with other family members on video chat as she visits her mother Chun Liu, a resident at Life Care Center, who had tested positive for coronavirus in March, May 12
The people with antibodies and their doctors were shocked when blood test results came back positive.
However, public health officials say the two residents are not being counted in their official tally of cases because they can’t be sure when the two were actually infected.
‘They are being considered ‘probable,” Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman, told The Seattle Times.
‘However, they are not captured in our case counts from January 20 forward.’
One of the two residents, named only as Jean, told the newspaper that she started coughing and having a fever just two days after Christmas.
The 64-year-old retired nurse finally improved after she was given a solution to inhale via a nebulizer.
After the pandemic hit, Jean wondered if her bug had actually been COVID-19. She was surprised when a sample of her blood was found to contain antibodies.
‘When I got sick, I didn’t even know what COVID-19 was,’ Jean, who asked to be only identified by her middle name, told The Seattle Times.
‘I understand that it’s not 100 percent and that there’s no guarantee that antibodies bring immunity. But it gives me some peace of mind that if I get it again, I can survive.’
Thomas, the spokeswoman, said 30 people in the district have tested positive for antibodies so far.
The positive serology tests can’t determine whether the two residents had COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in December.
That would be weeks before the disease was officially detected in the US.
Officials say they may have been exposed after the first recorded case. For example, one of the people had lunch with a hospital nurse in Kirkland, Washington, the site of a large outbreak in a nursing home.
However, both patients’ symptoms match the definition laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for positive cases.
On January 20, a man in Snohomish County became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in the US, the so-called ‘Patient Zero’.
He had been traveling in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak originated, and returned to the Seattle area on January 15.
Days later, the man began showing symptoms such a fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
‘My own guess is that there wasn’t one introduction or Patient Zero who brought the virus to the United States,’ Dr Art Reingold, a public health epidemiologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told the newspaper.
‘There were likely earlier and multiple introductions of the virus.’
This is not the first time that health officials have had to grapple with the fact the virus may have been circulating earlier in the US.
Until recently, it was believed that a resident of the LifeCare Center of Kirkland, who died on February 26, was the first COVID-19 death in America.
However, in April, it was revealed through autopsies that the first death actually occurred in Santa Clara, California, on February 6.
In total Washington has more than 18,400 infections and 985 deaths from coronavirus. There are more than 1.4 million cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and more than 87,000 deaths.
True coronavirus death toll in the US is more than 100,000 claims Harvard professor who says around 20,000 fatalities from the disease have gone unreported
The true death toll from the coronavirus in the US may already be in the six figures, new analysis shows.
As of Friday, more than 87,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But a Harvard University statistician and The New York Times say that between 100,000 and 110,000 Americans have perished due to the pandemic.
While the undercount can’t show who died from the coronavirus directly, or indirectly, it may provide a number on how truly widespread the pathogen is.
A Harvard professor calculated that the actual virus death toll in the US is between 100,000 and 110,000
He found that, by April 25, 70,000 more Americans died than what is considered standard. At the time, the coronavirus death toll was 52,422, which means fatalities were undercounted by at least 20,000 (pictured)
To calculate the estimates, The Times teamed up with Dr Rafael Irizarry, chair of the Department of Data Science at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor of applied statistics at Harvard University.
Pictured, Dr Rafael Irizarry, chair of the Department of Data Science at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor of applied statistics at Harvard University
Connecticut, North Carolina and Pennsylvania were not included in the estimates due to incomplete data.
They compared death rates during Spring 2020 with the rates of previous springs.
Because many who die do not get an autopsy, let a lone a coronavirus deaths, they looked at ‘excess deaths’.
Excess deaths are defined as over and above the number of people who would have died anyway – the typical mortality rate of a population.
Results showed that by April 25, 70,000 more Americans died than what is considered normal for those weeks.
At the time, the official figure for coronavirus deaths sat at 52,422, which means fatalities were undercounted by nearly 20,000.
The Times reports that Irizarry believes nearly 70 percent came from five states with some of the highest number of casess: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.
This means that if that 20,000 number was added to the current total, the death toll surges pass 100,000.
The Times estimates that underreporting occurred after April 25 but not with such inflated numbers.
‘There’s probably less underreporting as time goes on,’ Dr Robert N Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told the newspaper.
The calculations made by Dr Irizarry and The Times seem to match up with other studies looking at excess deaths.
Between March 11 and May 2, there were more than 24,000 ‘excess deaths’ compared to years prior, a CDC report revealed on Monday.
That means, in a typical year, there are about 8,000 deaths during the same period and the current deaths are more than triple what it would be in an expected year.