COVID-19 was in California much earlier than experts thought, report says

The virus may have initially gone undetected on the West coast.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new report reveals that COVID-19 hit the West coast well ahead of initial estimations and caused fatalities before it could be identified.

According to the Los Angeles Times, early deaths in the San Francisco Bay Area at the beginning of the year suggest that a persistent group of coronavirus cases had made its way to coastal communities. It was then allowed to spread unchecked weeks before social distancing mandates went into effect.

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“The virus was freewheeling in our community and probably has been here for quite some time,” Dr. Jeff Smith, a physician who is the chief executive of Santa Clara County government, explained during a recent briefing.

Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hypothesizes the virus first showed up “back in December,” while a study coming out of Stanford took note of a dramatic viral surge back in February, suggesting the virus was around for approximately two months before it became noticeable.

The Atlantic reports that San Francisco mayor London Breed was criticized initially for her response to the pandemic, because she moved early to shut down businesses. It is now believed that her quick response minimized the toll on the city. The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, issued a stay-at-home order and shut down businesses a few days later.

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“This wasn’t recognized because we were having a severe flu season,” Smith said in an interview. “Symptoms are very much like the flu. If you got a mild case of COVID, you didn’t really notice. You didn’t even go to the doctor. The doctor maybe didn’t even do it because they presumed it was the flu.”

It was first reported that, “COVID-19 did not reappear in the Bay Area until Feb. 27, when doctors finally decided to test a hospitalized woman who had been ill for weeks. She became the region’s first case of community-spread coronavirus.”

But since then Smith has explained to county supervisors, “When public health [officials] tried to track down the start of the disease … we weren’t able to find, specifically, a contact. That means the virus is in the community already — not, as was suspected by the CDC, as only in China and being spread from contact with China.”

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