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Study hints Covid-19 may have been in the US as early as December

September 15, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Passengers walks past thermal cameras, that check passenger's body temperatures, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California on June 23, 2020, after they were added as another layer of protection during the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep passengers safe. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Researchers believe they have found evidence that the novel coronavirus may have been circulating in the US as early as late December, about a month before the current timeline from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This study, published last Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found a statistically significant uptick in clinic and hospital visits by patients who reported respiratory illnesses as early as the week of December 22.

Dr. Joann Elmore, who worked on the new study, said she started looking through the records after receiving a number of emails from anxious patients in March through her clinic's patient portal at UCLA.

Elmore and her colleagues noticed the spike in respiratory cases by searching the field in medical records that lists why someone came to the clinic and searched for the symptom "cough. " They looked at the records for the month of December 2019 through February 2020 and compared their findings to records from the five prior years.

The number of patient visits to the ER for respiratory complaints, as well as the number of people hospitalized with acute respiratory failure between December 2019 and February 2020, showed a similar increase compared to records from the past five years.

Hoyen said the bigger takeaway from this study for her was that it points to the possibility that data like this could augment some of the disease surveillance the CDC is already doing for diseases like flu.

Marrazzo said she and infectious disease colleagues across the country have been discussing how often they were seeing patients with what we now know as Covid-19 symptoms earlier than the official timeline.

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