Overall, infections spreading from New York account for 60 to 65 per cent of the sequenced viruses across the country.
- PTI New York
- Last Updated: May 7, 2020, 8:30 PM IST
The COVID-19 outbreak in New York became the primary source of infections around the United States, with researchers saying the state acted like the ‘Grand Central Station’ by carrying the virus across many directions.
The New York Times reported that New York City’s coronavirus outbreak grew so large by early March that the city became the primary source of new infections in the United States, as thousands of infected people travelled from the city and ‘seeded outbreaks around the country.’
“New York acted as the Grand Central Station for this virus, with the opportunity to move from there in so many directions, to so many places,” said David Engelthaler, head of the infectious disease branch of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona.
New York State now has 323,978 confirmed virus cases and is still seeing an average of over 200 deaths daily from COVID-19, from a peak of nearly 800 fatalities every day.
The report said that the research indicates that a wave of infections swept from New York City through much of the country before the city began setting social distancing limits to stop the growth. This helped to fuel outbreaks across the US, including in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and as far away as the West Coast.
The data is drawn from geneticists’ tracking signature mutations of the virus, travel histories of infected people and models of the outbreak by infectious disease experts.
“We now have enough data to feel pretty confident that New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country,” said Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health.
Overall, infections spreading from New York account for 60 to 65 per cent of the sequenced viruses across the country, Grubaugh said.
The report noted that the key role of New York’s outbreak shows that decisions made by state and federal officials helped shape the trajectory of the outbreak and allowed it to grow in the rest of the country. Experts say that officials waited too long to impose distancing measures and limit international flights.
However research shows that travel from other American cities also sparked infections across the country, including from an early outbreak centered in the Seattle area that seeded infections in more than a dozen states, researchers say. “Even if New York had managed to slow the virus, it probably would have continued to spread from elsewhere,” experts say.
Even as restrictions across New York were put in place only in mid-March, thousands of infected people packed trains and restaurants, thronged tourist attractions and passed through its three major airports at the end of February.
“Acting earlier would most likely have blunted the virus’s march across the country,” researchers say.
“It means that we missed the boat early on, and the vast majority in this country is coming from domestic spread,” said Kristian Andersen, a professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research. “I keep hearing that it’s somebody else’s fault. That’s not true. It’s not somebody else’s fault, it’s our own fault.”
The report also said that the enormous growth of New York’s outbreak partly reflects its volume of international visitors, especially from Europe, where most of its infections came from.
The most commonly detected viruses tied to New York have a distinct genetic signature linking them to outbreaks in Europe. Those spreading from Washington State have a signature linking them directly to China, the report said.
By Wednesday, more than 72,000 Americans had died due to COVID-19 and over 12 lakh tested positive for the disease.