The Slatest

Coronavirus May Have Spread in Washington State for Weeks, According to Study

Crowd of shoppers at Costco, with carts filled with household essentials
Shoppers in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Mark Ralston/Getty Images

There may be a lot more coronavirus infections in Washington state than officials realize. That is the conclusion of a genetic analysis that claims the new virus may have been spreading around Washington state for as many as six weeks undetected. If true, it means there could be hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area. The study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington was not published in a scientific journal or reviewed by other scientists.

Trevor Bedford, an associate professor who announced the findings, said that an analysis of the virus found that a specimen from a newly diagnosed patient matched that of another person who traveled from China in January and was the first known case in the United States. “I believe we’re facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China,” Bedford wrote on Twitter.

Two new cases were confirmed in Washington state’s King County on Sunday as authorities are monitoring a possible outbreak in a nursing home. A third case was also announced in Illinois, and the first case detected in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island patient, who appears to be the second on the East Coast, had traveled to Italy in February. There have been a total of 74 confirmed cases in the United States so far, and Americans have been descending on stores to stock up on basic goods.

The Trump administration tried to calm the public that it has things under control and there are enough diagnostic test kits to test 75,000 people. That was the announcement that Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, made on Sunday as the Food and Drug Administration also allowed labs and hospitals across the country to carry out tests without having to go through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet despite the assurances, a devastating piece in the Washington Post describes how President Donald Trump tried to continually minimize the outbreak in an effort to contain any political damage. “It’s complete chaos,” a senior administration official said. “Everyone is just trying to get a handle on what the [expletive] is going on.”

Around the world the coronavirus continued spreading, with more than 60 countries now reporting cases as the death toll reached at least 3,000. Scotland and the Dominican Republic were among the countries that reported their first cases Sunday. The number of coronavirus cases surged in Italy with a total of 1,694 confirmed cases and 34 deaths. In France, where there have been 100 cases and two deaths, the famous Louvre Museum was closed after workers said they were fearful of the virus. “We are very worried because we have visitors from everywhere,” said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative. “The risk is very, very, very great. The French government had earlier decided to ban any indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people.