New evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic reached the west coast of the United States earlier than experts realized, and likely spread without containment. The findings come from UCLA researchers who analyzed over 10 million patient records from Los Angeles hospitals between December of 2019 and February of 2020. They discovered numerous hospitalizations for symptoms now known to be associated with COVID-19.
According to a report by The Los Angeles Times, the researchers found that hospital visits for extreme "coughing" were up by 50 percent from the same time of year five years earlier. The number of people hospitalized for respiratory failure was up as well — with 18 more cases of lung failure than is average. Extrapolating from this and other data like it, scientists estimate there may have been as many as 1,000 coronavirus cases in Los Angeles between December and February. However, lead study author Dr. Joann Elmore noted: "We may never truly know if these excess patients represented early and undetected COVID-19 cases in our area."
The first officially confirmed case of COVID-19 in L.A. was diagnosed on Jan. 26, 2020, in Los Angeles International Airport. It was taken as a good sign at the time that no more cases were identified for a full five weeks, hinting that the city might have contained the threat. Before long, however, community spread was rampant, with over 700 new cases per day.
These new estimates about the early coronavirus spread in L.A. complicate the accepted narrative not just for the city, but for the world. The Chinese government has claimed that its first recorded case of COVID-19 was not found until the last week of December, and was not reported to the World Health Organization until Dec. 31. If the virus was spreading unrecognized within L.A. before that, it might indicate that Wuhan, China was not even the origin of the virus — or that it was not identified until it was well-established around the world.
This also complicates the rhetoric of other world leaders such as President Donald Trump, who want to cast blame on the Chinese government for the coronavirus pandemic. Critics have already called Trump down for his racist references to the "China virus," and now the geographical origin of the virus could be called into question anyway.
The U.S. passed a horrific milestone of over 200,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday — a figure that even grim projections did not account for until November of 2020. The pandemic is still on the rise, with a devastating new outbreak expected to accompany the usual flu season in the coming months. Visit the websites of the CDC or the World Health Organization for the latest updates.