Snohomish County coronavirus infections could have started earlier than thought

Snohomish Co. coronavirus infections could have started earlier than thought

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — Healthcare officials confirmed that the first-ever documented case of the new coronavirus in the U.S. was likely not the country’s first infection.

“Given the reports that we’ve had and others in the country, that (coronavirus) introduction may have occurred prior to mid-January,” said Dr. Chris Spitters of the Snohomish County Health District. “There were probably more unrecognized cases, probably more unrecognized deaths.”

Officials in California recently said the same thing, reporting that a coronavirus death occurred there Feb. 6.

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That’s almost a month before Washington state’s first fatality, which was also believed to be the first in the U.S.

“The things we put into place in late January, like the travel ban, the virus was probably already here by then and circulating quite widely,” said Ashish Jha of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

At a briefing, Snohomish County health officials downplayed published reports that suggested two people may have had COVID-19 around Christmas.

Health workers said both people, who later tested positive for anti-bodies, probably had the flu in December and contracted the coronavirus later.

“There’s a saying in medicine, ‘when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras,’" Spitters said. “So the horse in that situation would be that they had a non-COVID infection in December.”

He added that healthcare professionals will likely never know the exact date coronavirus came to Snohomish County, or even Washington state, because there are not enough resources to investigate each suspicious death from December 2019 and January.

“I’m certainly not pressing the medical examiner or other folks to look back,” he stated. "I think resources are limited right now.”

In terms of confirmed cases, more than 2,700 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Snohomish County.

The good news is that 84% recovered.