Coronavirus spread 'under the radar' in US major cities since January, researchers say

Speaking to the Washington Post, CDC Director Robert Redfield warned a second wave of the Covid-19 coronavirus this year could be worse because it will coincide with flu season.

Posted: Apr 22, 2020 8:53 AM
Updated: Apr 24, 2020 10:03 AM


The novel coronavirus silently spread in the United States earlier than previously thought, infecting tens of thousands of people in New York and other major cities, researchers say.

A new model by the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University in Boston shows the first infections came from China in early or mid-January, and that the virus went undetected because many people were not presenting symptoms.

'The disease spread under the radar,' Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute, said on 'CNN Newsroom' on Thursday.

The model suggests that while Americans were still focused on China, about 28,000 people in major cities -- such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle -- were infected by March 1.

Several states, including California and Indiana, have been retracing their coronavirus timelines after discovering that the highly infectious disease started killing people earlier than previously known.

These discoveries have emphasized just how much about this pandemic remains uncertain and unknown. Four months since the novel coronavirus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, experts worldwide still do not fully understand how the virus started, how it impacts the body or what treatments are effective.

Many more New Yorkers could have had the virus, study suggests

A preliminary study of 3,000 New Yorkers found that 13.9% tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

If those rates hold for the state's 19.5 million people, then about 2.7 million people in the state had the virus -- numbers that are multiple times higher than the official state counts.

The tests were performed on 3,000 random adults who were outside of the home, he said, so it was not an entirely random sample.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, said New York's antibody testing results could be good news, as it means that the virus's fatality rate may be lower than the official fatality rate.

'It tells us this virus is much more widespread than we thought,' he said. 'The hospitalization rate may be much lower because the denominator (of people infected) is so much bigger.

'I think it's also in a way reassuring, meaning that we are developing some immunity to this. There are people that have mild illness that don't know they are sick, and those individuals may be part of how we move forward as we start to think about reopening certain parts of the country.'

The antibody test results also show just how behind the US was and remains in its coronavirus testing. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said shortages are limiting the country's ability to test more.

'I am not overly confident right now at all that we have what it takes to do that,' Fauci said at a Time 100 Talks interview. 'We're getting better and better at it, as the weeks go by, but we are not in a situation where we say we're exactly where we want to be with regard to testing.'

Still, despite the many unknowns as well as ongoing testing shortages, several US states are planning to loosen their stay-at-home restrictions to alleviate the pains of a flailing economy and high unemployment.

Earlier spread than known

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked coroners to review California cases dating to December after autopsies revealed two people in the state died of coronavirus in early and mid-February -- up to three weeks before the first known US death from the virus.

'We are doing the same across the state and in other counties as well to ultimately help guide a deeper understanding of when this pandemic really started to impact Californians directly,' Newsom said Wednesday.

In Indiana, too, officials are tracking cases going back to at least mid-February --- weeks before the state announced its first case in early March.

As of Thursday, there were more than 873,000 cases in the United States and at least 49,000 people have died from the virus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Governors and mayors feud over reopening

The decision to reopen even as coronavirus deaths linger and cases continue to increase is pitting governors against mayors across the country.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp made the most aggressive move yet to get the state's economy humming by allowing businesses such as barbershops, nail salons, bowling alleys and gyms to reopen Friday.

A day after criticizing Kemp's decision, President Donald Trump said Thursday he may extend social distancing guidelines beyond May 1 if he doesn't feel the country is in a safe place.

'We may go beyond that,' Trump said during a White House coronavirus briefing when asked whether he might need to re-up the guidelines when they expire at the end of the month.

The National Governors Association released its 'Roadmap to Recovery,' a guide for governors that lays out 10 steps that need to be taken in order for states to reopen their economies. The report says that testing capacity remains 'inadequate' and says states who fail to properly test and trace Covid-19 cases could have significant outbreaks.

'States that fail to do so, or without adequate test and trace capability in place, will only notice problems when individuals begin to crowd emergency departments and outbreaks among the most at risk are reported,' the report says.

At that point, it will be too late to avoid wider spread that could overwhelm the health care system, it says.

Other states have begun to reopen but in slower steps. In neighboring South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster announced certain stores can reopen at 20% capacity along with beaches. Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia accused him of using 'arbitrary dates' instead of data to make his decisions.

'When you should go back to business is when you have some true indicators over two weeks that show a deceleration of the pandemic,' Benjamin said, referring to one of the White House's criteria for reopening state economies. 'We need more testing. We need more data, and then we can decide how we go back into business.'

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said the governor's reopening plan was 'a measured response' that took safety and social distancing into account. 'It's not like he opened the barn door and everything flies out,' Tecklenburg said

Not so fast, experts warn states

A coronavirus model routinely cited by the White House warns that no state should be opening before May 1.

South Carolina and Georgia should not open until June 5 and June 19, respectively, according to the model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned Kemp to be careful.

'Going ahead and leapfrogging into phases where you should not be, I would advise him, as a health official and a physician, not to do that,' Fauci said.

Montana has the best forecast at May 1. The only other states that should open by May 10 are Alaska, Hawaii, North Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia, the model says. North Carolina is the only one of the six states with more than 1,000 confirmed cases.

About half the states in the country should remain closed until May 25 or later, according to the model. The reopening dates are based on an assumption that states will have aggressive testing, contact tracing, isolation and limits on the size of gatherings to prevent another wave of the virus.

Millions of coronavirus tests are needed each week before US restrictions can be safely lifted, economists and public health experts say.

'We have estimated we need at least three times as much testing as we have right now,' said Dr. Anish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Initiative. 'We have been flat for like three and a half weeks. We have made no progress.'

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 292082

Reported Deaths: 8858
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1443155217
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Lake16953487
Will14045378
Kane13159326
St. Clair6665190
Winnebago6037149
Madison5760137
Champaign473320
McHenry4609118
Peoria351050
McLean329523
Rock Island302676
Kankakee275277
Unassigned2532244
Sangamon243245
Kendall202025
Tazewell178025
LaSalle172557
DeKalb159038
Macon156044
Coles147231
Williamson140645
Jackson126224
Clinton119020
Adams114910
Boone112823
Randolph94111
Effingham8722
Vermilion7914
Whiteside75320
Ogle7286
Monroe68016
Knox6723
Grundy6705
Henry6665
Morgan66223
Bureau65211
Jefferson62038
Marion5661
Christian55411
Macoupin5507
Franklin5413
Stephenson5296
Union51524
McDonough48215
Logan4681
Crawford4584
Woodford4266
Fayette4183
Livingston4036
Cass39811
Jersey39415
Shelby3944
Lee3831
Montgomery37613
Iroquois36719
Perry35315
Saline3464
Warren3332
Bond3305
Douglas3147
Wayne2805
Jo Daviess2662
Lawrence2592
Carroll2355
Greene22911
Cumberland2185
Hancock2183
Moultrie2183
Washington2161
Jasper2139
Richland2136
Pulaski1811
Fulton1780
Clark1742
White1690
Wabash1583
Clay1560
Johnson1560
Mason1531
Mercer1405
Piatt1390
Pike1341
De Witt1252
Menard1251
Edgar1138
Massac1132
Ford1055
Marshall1050
Alexander831
Scott790
Gallatin732
Hamilton712
Henderson690
Edwards640
Brown620
Calhoun600
Putnam570
Stark552
Schuyler500
Hardin400
Pope291
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 118322

Reported Deaths: 3591
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21502767
Lake10688323
Elkhart6707111
St. Joseph6619113
Allen6330205
Hamilton4938109
Vanderburgh378131
Hendricks2766124
Monroe265536
Tippecanoe256613
Johnson2352124
Clark225957
Porter219947
Delaware200162
Cass19559
Vigo186827
Madison170375
LaPorte149141
Floyd139664
Warrick138242
Howard132663
Kosciusko125917
Bartholomew118457
Marshall101524
Dubois99919
Boone99146
Grant95134
Hancock94643
Noble93132
Henry81226
Jackson7739
Wayne77014
Morgan73438
Daviess68028
Shelby68029
Dearborn67528
LaGrange64011
Clinton62314
Harrison59224
Putnam58411
Gibson5355
Knox5289
Lawrence51629
Montgomery51121
DeKalb48811
White48714
Decatur45939
Miami4394
Greene42735
Fayette42313
Jasper4012
Scott39011
Steuben3907
Posey3460
Sullivan33812
Jennings31612
Franklin31325
Clay3085
Ripley3078
Orange28824
Whitley2826
Carroll27813
Adams2763
Wabash2728
Starke2717
Washington2701
Wells2674
Spencer2633
Jefferson2503
Huntington2473
Fulton2442
Tipton22822
Randolph2238
Perry22113
Jay1920
Newton17411
Owen1711
Martin1680
Pike1641
Rush1574
Vermillion1310
Fountain1292
Blackford1213
Pulaski1141
Crawford1100
Parke1072
Brown1043
Benton870
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren411
Unassigned0226