Two studies of the genetic history of the coronavirus found that most cases in New York came from Europe, not China as had been previously assumed, the New York Times reported.
Two separate studies looking at completely different groups of New York cases came to the same conclusion. One study was done by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and another by the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
“The majority is clearly European,” Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told NYT.
The studies identified seven distinct lineages of the coronavirus in New York.
Why does this matter? The fact that so many cases of the novel coronavirus came to New York from Europe may explain why the virus is so widespread even though travel from China to the U.S. was restricted by President Donald Trump on Jan. 31.
It wasn’t until March 11 that the president restricted travel from Europe, and even then the decision was heavily criticized as a misguided an ineffective measure. From Politico:
“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel said in a joint statement.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” they said, adding that the bloc was “taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus.”
In the weeks following that travel ban, coronavirus outbreaks in Italy and Spain severely worsened, leading to thousands of deaths and overwhelmed health care systems.
How did scientists trace this? The doctors who conducted these studies are “viral historians” who study the genetic material of viruses, identify mutations, and trace the spread of those specific strains to determine the age and original location of the strains.
The genetic details of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 indicate that the virus originated in horseshoe bats in Wuhan, China in late 2019, and spread to the rest of the world from there. Some of the earliest U.S. coronavirus cases appear to have come from people who traveled from China.