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Limited Early Spread

A new analysis suggests there was limited spread of COVID-19 in the US in late January and early February, a finding US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has used to try to absolve the agency's mishandling of the rollout of testing, according to NPR.

Through a combined analysis of syndromic surveillance, virus surveillance, phylogenetic analysis, and retrospectively identified cases, researchers from the CDC and state and local public health offices found limited community transmission likely began in late January or early February, as they write in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This transmission followed a single introduction of the virus from China and subsequent, and multiple, introductions from Europe, they found.

According to the researchers, the "overall disease incidence before February 28 was too low to be detected through emergency department syndromic surveillance data."

Redfield suggested these findings vindicated the agency, which had struggled to provide reliable testing for SARS-CoV-2, NPR reports. "It really would be like looking for a needle in a haystack," Redfield says. 

Other researchers disagree. "That's a preposterous statement," Kristian Andersen from Scripps Research tells Stat News. "It's a sad fact that the United States missed the boat on getting adequate testing set up early enough to be able to stop the virus in its tracks — it's likely one of several reasons we have by far the most cases of any country in the world."