Thousands of New York City residents and elsewhere in the country were already infected with the coronavirus by the time first case was confirmed in the Big Apple on March 1, a new analysis reveals.
The study by researchers at Northeastern University concludes that travel restrictions to and from China in January only had a modest effect in containing the transmission of the killer virus.
Instead, COVID-19 had already spread like wildfire throughout the country and the globe — with New York City being the epicenter in the US.
“Even in the presence of the strong travel restrictions in place to and from Mainland China since 23 January 2020, a large number of individuals exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] have been traveling internationally without being detected,” the analysis said.
The report suggests US and countries were caught flat-footed at the outset, initially lacking the testing capacity to identify and isolate infected individuals in the populace.
By the time testing began, thousands of infected individuals — including those without symptoms — were already spreading COVID-19 to other people.
Northeastern first shared its findings with The New York Times.
The findings reinforce other studies by the NYU and Mount Sinai schools of medicine that also found that that the coronavirus variants commonly found by doctors in New York were likely imported from Europe, thanks to the Big Apple’s close ties to the continent, instead of directly from China.
Northeastern’s models reveal that by mid-February, community spread was already well underway in the US and other major European countries by mid-February, long before the alarm bells went off.
The report cautioned that going forward travel restrictions to COVID-19 affected areas will have only “modest effects” on containing the virus and that more drastic containment efforts — such as business shutdowns and social distancing — “will provide the greatest benefit to mitigate the epidemic.”
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