The coronavirus outbreak that has gripped New York spread mostly from Europe, according to two scientific studies.
Researchers believe the virus was being spread around the city by mid-February – weeks before New York’s first confirmed case.
Scientists say the two separate teams found travelers brought the virus mainly from Europe, rather than Asia.
Travelers likely carrying the virus already arrived in New York from Europe before the end of January when it is thought isolated cases began and President Trump banned entry to the US by foreign nationals who had visited China.
These studies examining the DNA of the virus also show it arrived in the city long before March 11, when the president announced plans to block travelers from most parts of Europe, according to The New York Times.
A map based on genome sequences shows have different strains of coronavirus have spread around the world, with at least eight strains being tracked
Travel data shows 3.4 million travelers from countries that would end up hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak entered the US as the pandemic was starting
National guards seen on the streets of New York City on Wednesday. The National Guard has been renting vans to transport hundreds of dead bodies from their homes in New York
A body being moved from a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue to a vehicle at the Brooklyn Hospital Center yesterday
In mid-March travelers coming to New York from Europe, where outbreaks in Italy and Spain were already spiking, were being asked at John F. Kennedy International Airport only if they had been to China or Iran, not if they had visited the hardest-hit nations in Europe, the Times reports.
Both research teams analyzed genomes from coronaviruses taken from New Yorkers starting in mid-March.
One of the studies detected seven separate strains of viruses that arrived in the New York City area and researchers expect to find more.
The two studies are being conducted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the New York University School of Medicine.
Despite examining different examples of the outbreak, researchers from both teams reached largely the same conclusions about its origins, according to specialists.
Dr Harm van Bakel, a geneticist and co-author of the Icahn School’s study, told the Times: ‘The majority is clearly European.’
Ambulances parked by NYU Langone Hospital yesterday as mounting cases of COVID-19 911 calls have overwhelmed the Emergency Services Technicians personnel. As a result FEMA has sent 250 ambulances and 500 EMT personnel to New York
Medical workers putting on PPEs at the beginning of their shift at the emergency field hospital run by Samaritan’s Purse and Mount Sinai Health System in Central Park yesterday
It was not until late February that Italy would begin locking down towns and cities as well as imposing restrictions on mass gatherings.
Although the New York outbreak appeared to originate in Europe, the Washington state cases appear to have come from China.
Researchers found viruses in Washington, which was the first major outbreak in the US, shared mutations in common with ones isolated in Wuhan by Chinese medics.
The first confirmed case in New York came on March 1 and around two weeks later new infections began to soar.
Last week travel data emerged showing 3.4 million travelers from countries that would end up as the hardest-hit by the outbreak entered the US as the pandemic was starting.
Figures from the US Commerce Department from December, January and February, which were the critical early months in the outbreak, reveal how hundreds of thousands or even millions of undetected coronavirus cases could have entered the country while medical experts remained unaware of the seriousness of the illness.
People wearing face masks standing in a temporary field hospital for coronavirus patients under construction at the USTA Billie Jean King national tennis center in Queens
The world first heard about the virus in December, when it remained confined to China and mostly in the epicenter of Wuhan.
Beijing was accused of covering up the spread of the virus, which may have left China’s borders through asymptomatic patients well before new cases were picked up around the world.
Isolated cases started showing up in Europe in late January, before the pandemic took off in Europe in February.
The travel data shows 759,493 people entered the US from China before President Trump’s travel ban on 31 January.
Another 343,402 arrived from Italy, 418,848 from Spain and about 1.9 million more came from Britain.
Medical experts say it cannot be known how many travelers may have been infected, but it’s highly likely some were not exhibiting symptoms.
And as air travel has surged in recent years, enabling the pandemic to spread as it has, some officials suspect the virus’ true impact was happening sooner than they realized.
Medical workers at the emergency field hospital in Central Park as New York City remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the US
Trump has been criticized for not rolling out a widespread testing program when cases began spiking in the US.
At least eight strains of the virus are being tracked by researchers around the world, using genetic detective work to show how the virus spreads.
The virus appears to mutate very slowly, with only tiny differences between the different strains and that none of the strains of the virus are more deadly than another, experts say.
They also added it does not appear the strains will grow more lethal as they evolve.
Scientists also said that despite conspiracy theories falsely claiming the virus was made in a lab, the virus’s genome shows it began in bats.
According to figures updated last night, coronavirus had infected 1.5 million people worldwide and killed nearly 88,000 people.
The US has seen more than 435,000 people infected and over 14,800 fatalities.
New York has suffered more than 150,000 cases with over 6,200 deaths.