Virus was spreading in US as early as December 2019, new study indicates

As US hospitalizations top 100,000, CDC survey finds antibodies for COVID-19 in blood samples taken more than a month before America’s first case was diagnosed

A person wearing a mask runs on a path in front of the Golden Gate Bridge during the coronavirus pandemic in San Francisco, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A person wearing a mask runs on a path in front of the Golden Gate Bridge during the coronavirus pandemic in San Francisco, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

US researchers have found evidence that the coronavirus was spreading through the American population long before it was first observed.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 7,389 blood samples from various states between December 13 and January 17 and found 106 individuals had antibodies for COVID-19, indicating they had been exposed to the virus. Of these, 39 samples taken between December 13-16 in Oregon, Washington and California had antibodies.

The first US case was confirmed on January 20.

“SARS-CoV-2 infections may have been present in the US in December 2019, earlier than previously recognized,” the authors of the study said.

Recent data has shown the virus was spreading around the world before previously thought.

Italian researchers said last month that the coronavirus was circulating in northern Italy as early as September 2019, well before the initial COVID-19 outbreak was identified in Wuhan, China.

The number of people being treated in US hospitals for COVID-19 topped 100,000 for the first time on Wednesday, a monitor said.

“There are 100,226 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US — the first time hospitalizations have exceeded 100k,” the COVID Tracking Project said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, the US death toll surpassed 2,700 in one day as of Wednesday evening, the highest since April, Johns Hopkins University said.

A stretcher is loaded back into an ambulance after EMTs dropped off a patient at a newly opened field hospital operated by Care New England to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients in Cranston, Rhode Island, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The new tally of 2,731 fatalities raises the overall known death toll in America to 273,181 since the pandemic started late last year.

The number of new infections over the past 24 hours was 195,121, the university said.

The US hopes to have immunized 100 million people against COVID-19 by the end of February, a top official said Wednesday, which is approximately 40 percent of the country’s adult population.

The push should start within weeks, when vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna-NIH are expected to be approved.

Each of these require two doses, the second after three weeks and four weeks, respectively.

Sherry Becerril, left, holds Sophia Becerril while taking photos of Evan Becerril after they chose a Christmas trees on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Long Beach, California (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“Between mid-December, and the end of February, we will have potentially immunized 100 million people,” Moncef Slaoui, scientific advisor to the government’s Operation Warp Speed program, told reporters.

This, he continued, would cover the “at-risk” population comprising the elderly, health care workers and first responders.

There will be an “ample” amount of vaccine to immunize three million residents of long-term care facilities in December, said the former pharmaceutical executive, who was recruited by the administration of President Donald Trump in spring.

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