A separate team at NYU Grossman School of Medicine came to strikingly similar conclusions, despite studying a different group of cases.
The research revealed a previously hidden spread of the virus that might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place. Maciej Boni of Penn State University and his colleagues recently used this method to see where the coronavirus, designated SARS-CoV-2, came from in the first place.
As new genomes come to light, researchers upload them to an online database called GISAID. A team of virus evolution experts are analyzing the growing collection of genomes in a project called Nextstrain. They continually update the virus family tree. In January, as the scope of the catastrophe in China became clear, a few countries started an aggressive testing program. But the United States fumbled in making its first diagnostic kits and initially limited testing only to people who had come from China and displayed symptoms of COVID-19.
A few cases came to light starting at the end of January. But it was easy to dismiss them as rare imports that did not lead to local outbreaks. “There may have been a couple other introductions in January that didn’t take off in the same way.”
As new cases arose in other parts of the country, other researchers set up their own pipelines. The first positive test result in New York came on March 1, and after a couple of weeks, patients surged into the city’s hospitals.
Van Bakel and his colleagues found one New York virus that was identical to one of the Washington viruses found by Bedford and his colleagues. “But in the movies, you get the X-Men.” Peter Thielen, a virologist at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, likes to think of the spread of viruses like a dandelion seed landing on an empty field.