The coronavirus had already spread from Europe to New York City by the time the Trump administration enacted a ban on travel from Europe, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms.
The Trump administration banned entry to the United States from 26 European countries on March 13. By March 15, the CDC reported, community transmission of the coronavirus was already widespread in New York.
"Although travel restrictions are an important mitigation strategy, by the time the European restrictions were implemented, importation and community transmission of (the coronavirus) had already occurred (in New York)," according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published on Friday.
New York's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene collected nasal swabs from patients at six hospitals during the first three weeks of March. A CDC analysis found that the samples that tested positive for COVID-19 resembled matched strains of the disease in Europe.
The CDC report also noted that five of those hospitals were selected because they were in areas with a high percentage of Chinese speakers to determine whether the strain they were seeing in New York might have come from Wuhan, China, where the virus was first discovered.
Instead, the CDC found that none of the samples from those hospitals matched the Wuhan strain, an outcome the administration sought to prevent by banning travel from China on Feb. 2.
"The travel ban with China made a difference," Dr. Tom Frieden, the former CDC director and current head of global health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, told the USA TODAY editorial board and reporters in late March. "It resulted in a significant delay in the number of people coming in with infection and because of that, that bought time in the U.S. to better prepare. And yet, that time wasn't optimally used."
Former CDC director: China travel ban 'made a difference' but US didn't prepare enough for coronavirus
At the time the samples were taken, Italy had the most coronavirus cases and deaths. A month later, the United States overtook Italy, with New York emerging as the epicenter.
With 3.6 million cases on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University data, the United States has the world's worst outbreak of coronavirus, and more than 138,700 people have died. That's 1.6 million more cases and 62,000 deaths than the next country on the list, Brazil.
The European Union on Thursday extended its ban on Americans from entering the bloc.
The EU first started lifting international travel restrictions on July 1, welcoming visitors from 14 countries, including Canada, South Korea and Australia. Americans remain barred from visiting the bloc for at least another two weeks under Thursday's decision, announced by the European Council.
The United States still has its own travel restrictions in place, even though the EU and other countries have made significantly more progress in containing the virus. The State Department has maintained its Level 4 travel advisory from March urging Americans to avoid all international travel because of COVID-19.