Thursday, April 09, 2020

Virus Arrived In New York Area By Way Of Europe, Not Asia

Donald Trump has consistently lied and distorted the truth surrounding his January 31 so-called ban on people from china entering the US.

It was not a "travel ban" (more than 430,000 people have come from China to the US since January 31), it was neither bold not done early, Democrats did not criticize the move (loudly or otherwise), no one called Trump a racist (for that decision, anyway), the move did not save "hundreds of thousands" of lives, as Trump claims (his estimate of lives saved has increased over time), and there is not enough data to state his decision significantly reduced the number of cases in the US. (Joe Biden has also misstated the facts about Trump's decision.)

Even if Trump's decision was everything he says it was, it likely would not have made much difference in how the virus evolved in the New York area. We now know that the virus came to the world's current coronavirus hotspot from Europe, not Asia. It was circulating in mid-February, at least two weeks before the first case was confirmed. Trump did not block travelers from most European countries until March 11.

Carl Zimmer, New York Times, April 8, 2020:
Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show
Travelers seeded multiple cases starting as early as mid-February, genomes show.

New research indicates that the coronavirus began to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case, and that travelers brought in the virus mainly from Europe, not Asia.

"The majority is clearly European," said Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who co-wrote a study awaiting peer review.

A separate team at N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine came to strikingly similar conclusions, despite studying a different group of cases. Both teams analyzed genomes from coronaviruses taken from New Yorkers starting in mid-March.

The research revealed a previously hidden spread of the virus that might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place.

On Jan. 31, President Trump barred foreign nationals from entering the country if they had been in China during the prior two weeks.

It would not be until late February that Italy would begin locking down towns and cities, and March 11 when Mr. Trump said he would block travelers from most European countries. But New Yorkers had already been traveling home with the virus. ...

Viruses invade a cell and take over its molecular machinery, causing it to make new viruses.

The process is quick and sloppy. As a result, new viruses can gain a new mutation that wasn't present in their ancestor. If a new virus manages to escape its host and infect other people, its descendants will inherit that mutation.

Tracking viral mutations demands sequencing all the genetic material in a virus — its genome. Once researchers have gathered the genomes from a number of virus samples, they can compare their mutations.

Sophisticated computer programs can then figure out how all of those mutations arose as viruses descended from a common ancestor. If they get enough data, they can make rough estimates about how long ago those ancestors lived. That's because mutations arise at a roughly regular pace, like a molecular clock.

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. While conspiracy theories might falsely claim the virus was concocted in a lab, the virus's genome makes clear that it arose in bats. ...

In January, as the scope of the catastrophe in China became clear, a few countries started an aggressive testing program. They were able to track the arrival of the virus on their territory and track its spread through their populations.

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.

"It was a disaster that we didn't do testing," Dr. Heguy said. ...

No comments: