MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It appears COVID-19 was in parts of the Tri-State Area earlier, perhaps a month before official cases were reported.
Patient 750 recovered and was recently discharged from NYU Winthrop, the hospital with the dubious distinction of having the very first confirmed coronavirus case on Long Island, according to the state.
But now, startling new discoveries of the virus outbreak and its spread are rewriting the timeline across the country, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Thursday.
“We were beginning to hear about these cases in December and January,” said Dr. Adam J. Singer of Stony Brook University Hospital.
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Singer, a professor of emergency medicine and a research scientist at Stony Brook, and his partners published their findings in the New England Journal Of Medicine. They believe they saw their first patient a full month earlier than NYU Winthrop.
“When we saw our first case, which I say was Feb. 7, the definition at that time was that the patient had a fever and respiratory symptoms and came from an area like Wuhan,” Singer said.
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Initially, the first coronavirus-related death in the U.S. was reported Feb. 26 in a suburb of Seattle, but this week Santa Clara, Calif., signaled the virus may have spread and been fatal in the Bay Area during the first week of February.
Was the virus spreading undetected on both coasts?
“The awareness, the recommendations, the testing, all of that kept changing and evolving,” Singer said, adding when asked if he wishes he could go back to early February and be able to test, “We did not have testing back on Feb. 7. Only the CDC was testing.”
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Elected officials say the fact that there were sick people on the East Coast and deaths on the West Coast back in early February is very significant, adding had there been testing, information could have been shared and tracked.
“The virus has been here and was here and in our communities, in our country, long before we were doing testing,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.
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Researchers were left largely blind to the specific locations and mutations.
“We had community transmission, probably to a significant degree far earlier than we had known,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the public health director of Santa Clara County, Calif.
Some say had there been earlier proof the virus had found a foothold in the U.S., the country’s public health response would have been more urgent, and lives could have been saved.