A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is confirming other studies that have said the first cases of the coronavirus studied in New Yorkers came from Europe and other places in the U.S.
The airport screenings and bans on foreign nationals traveling from China implemented on Feb. 2 and restrictions for travelers from Europe implemented on March 13 did nothing to stop or slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, because it was already in New York City, according to the report released Thursday.
Using data collected from patients with influenza-like symptoms at six New York City emergency departments (two in Manhattan, two in Queens, one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx) during March 1–20, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that out of 544 people, 36 were SARS-CoV-2–positive with specimens resembled those circulating in Europe.
Five out of the six emergency departments were selected due to their usage by patients residing in ZIP codes with a high proportion of Chinese speakers, the report said. However, none of the samples collected were directly connected to sequences from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak originated.
The report also found that during the weeks of March 8 and March 15, there was an increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 among New Yorkers under 18 years of age. The DOHMH estimated there was an increase in prevalence and undetected cases of COVID-19 among youths, which begs the question what role children played in community transmission at the beginning of the pandemic, and how effective school closure is as a mitigation strategy.
It comes down to the limited testing availability, which is still a problem for most states more than four months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday called the report "damning" and said that the China and Europe travel ban was the federal government's first mistake in the country's failed attempt to slow down the spread.
"There's going to be a second failure which is now all this explosion across the rest of the country was totally predictable," Cuomo said on MSNBC.
"We still don't have the operation set up. We're going to see that infection come back to New York and reinfect New York unless we're very lucky. It's not only the first failure that allowed the virus to come. It's the second failure that four months later we're still talking about eight days to get testing results," he continued.
The DOHMH agreed that limited testing led to many COVID-19 cases going undetected, but it was also due to strict testing criteria. At the beginning of the pandemic, only New Yorkers with known coronavirus symptoms at the time were allowed to get tested and they needed a doctor's permission.