NEW YORK (AP) — A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 — weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials.
The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China.
The pandemic coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Officially, the first U.S. infection to be identified was a traveler — a Washington state man who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15 and sought help at a clinic on Jan. 19.
CDC officials initially said the spark that started the U.S. outbreak arrived during a three-week window from mid-January to early February. But research since then — including some done by the CDC — has suggested a small number of infections occurred earlier.
Author(s): Mike Stobbe
Publication Date: 15 June 2021
Publication Site: Tuscon.com, from AP
Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.
The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
China’s National Health Commission and the WIV didn’t respond to requests for comment. Shi Zhengli, the top bat coronavirus expert at WIV, has said the virus didn’t leak from her laboratories. She told the WHO-led team that traveled to Wuhan earlier this year to investigate the origins of the virus that all staff had tested negative for Covid-19 antibodies and there had been no turnover of staff on the coronavirus team.
Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist on that team told NBC News in March that some WIV staff did fall sick in the autumn of 2019, but she attributed that to regular, seasonal sickness.
It isn’t unusual for people in China to go straight to the hospital when they fall sick, either because they get better care there or lack access to a general practitioner. Covid-19 and the flu, while very different illnesses, share some of the same symptoms, such as fever, aches and a cough. Still, it could be significant if members of the same team working with coronaviruses went to hospital with similar symptoms shortly before the pandemic was first identified.
Author(s): Michael R. Gordon, Warren P. Strobel, Drew Hinshaw
Publication Date: 23 May 2021
Publication Site: WSJ
Three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill enough with symptoms similar to COVID-19 that they sought hospital care in November of 2019, according to a U.S. intelligence report obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
According to the Journal, the intelligence report, issued in the last days of the Trump administration, said researchers at the lab became sick “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has reportedly not provided raw data, safety logs or lab records on its work looking into coronaviruses in bats. Many consider the virus to have originated in bats before jumping to humans.
Author(s): Joseph Choi
Publication Date: 24 May 2021
Publication Site: The Hill
As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general (5), the United States and 13 other countries (6), and the European Union (7) that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.
Author(s): Jesse D. Bloom, Yujia Alina Chan, Ralph S. Baric, Pamela J. Bjorkman, Sarah Cobey, Benjamin E. Deverman, David N. Fisman, Ravindra Gupta, Akiko Iwasaki, Marc Lipsitch, Ruslan Medzhitov, Richard A. Neher, Rasmus Nielsen, Nick Patterson, Tim Stearns, Erik van Nimwegen, Michael Worobey, David A. Relman
Publication Date: 14 May 2021
Publication Site: Science
Now, in a letter in the journal Science, 18 prominent biologists—including the world’s foremost coronavirus researcher—are lending their weight to calls for a new investigation of all possible origins of the virus, and calling on China’s laboratories and agencies to “open their records” to independent analysis.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the scientists write.
The letter, which was organized by the Stanford University microbiologist David Relman and the University of Washington virologist Jesse Bloom, takes aim at a recent joint study of covid origins undertaken by the World Health Organization and China, which concluded that a bat virus likely reached humans via an intermediate animal and that a lab accident was “extremely unlikely.”
Author(s): Rowan Jacobsen
Publication Date: 13 May 2021
Publication Site: MIT Tech Review
A tale of two theories. After the pandemic first broke out in December 2019, Chinese authorities reported that many cases had occurred in the wet market — a place selling wild animals for meat — in Wuhan. This reminded experts of the SARS1 epidemic of 2002, in which a bat virus had spread first to civets, an animal sold in wet markets, and from civets to people. A similar bat virus caused a second epidemic, known as MERS, in 2012. This time the intermediary host animal was camels.
Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: They were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.
One of the very few establishment scientists to have questioned the virologists’ absolute rejection of lab escape is Richard Ebright, who has long warned against the dangers of gain-of-function research. Another is David A. Relman of Stanford University. “Even though strong opinions abound, none of these scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out with currently available facts,” he wrote. Kudos too to Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told CNN on March 26, 2021 that the “most likely” cause of the epidemic was “from a laboratory,” because he doubted that a bat virus could become an extreme human pathogen overnight, without taking time to evolve, as seemed to be the case with SARS2.
Author(s): Nicholas Wade
Publication Date: 5 May 2021
Publication Site: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Using molecular dating tools and epidemiological simulations, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues at the University of Arizona and Illumina, Inc., estimate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was likely circulating undetected for at most two months before the first human cases of COVID-19 were described in Wuhan, China in late-December 2019.
Writing in the March 18, 2021 online issue of Science, they also note that their simulations suggest that the mutating virus dies out naturally more than three-quarters of the time without causing an epidemic.
Publication Date: 18 March 2021
Publication Site: Science Daily
Stringent COVID-19 control measures were imposed in Wuhan between January 23 and April 8, 2020. Estimates of the prevalence of infection following the release of restrictions could inform post-lockdown pandemic management. Here, we describe a city-wide SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening programme between May 14 and June 1, 2020 in Wuhan. All city residents aged six years or older were eligible and 9,899,828 (92.9%) participated. No new symptomatic cases and 300 asymptomatic cases (detection rate 0.303/10,000, 95% CI 0.270–0.339/10,000) were identified. There were no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases. 107 of 34,424 previously recovered COVID-19 patients tested positive again (re-positive rate 0.31%, 95% CI 0.423–0.574%). The prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Wuhan was therefore very low five to eight weeks after the end of lockdown.
Authors: Shiyi Cao, Yong Gan, Chao Wang, Max Bachmann, Shanbo Wei, Jie Gong, Yuchai Huang, Tiantian Wang, Liqing Li, Kai Lu, Heng Jiang, Yanhong Gong, Hongbin Xu, Xin Shen, Qingfeng Tian, Chuanzhu Lv, Fujian Song, Xiaoxv Yin & Zuxun Lu
Publication Date: 20 November 2020
Publication Site: Nature Communications