First cases of COVID-19 in NYC came primarily from Europe

June 4, 2020

New York City’s first confirmed COVID-19 cases were primarily from sources tied to Europe and the United States, according to a molecular epidemiology study of SARS-CoV-2.

The study, published in Science and led by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) researchers, is the first to trace the source of these cases and show that the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in New York City predominately arose through untracked transmission between the United States and Europe, with limited evidence to support any direct introductions from China, where the virus originated, or other locations in Asia, according to a news release from Mount Sinai Health System.

The researchers also documented early community spread of SARS-CoV-2 in New York City during that time. New York City has become one of the major epicenters of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States with more than 4,000 fatalities in the metropolitan area.

The team of researchers from the Icahn Institute for Data Science and Genomic Technology, the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute, and the Departments of Microbiology, Pathology, and Genetics and Genomic Sciences sequenced 90 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from 84 of over 800 confirmed COVID-19 positive cases within the Mount Sinai Health System. The team then analyzed these sequences together with all 2,363 publicly available SARS-CoV-2 genomes from around the world to determine the most likely origin of the SARS-CoV-2 strains infecting these metro New York City residents who sought care at Mount Sinai.

“Phylogenetic analysis of 84 distinct SARS-CoV2 genomes indicates multiple independent but isolated introductions mainly from Europe and other parts of the United States. In addition, clusters of related viruses found in patients living in different neighborhoods of the city provide strong evidence of community transmission of SARS-CoV2 in the city prior to March 18, 2020,” said Harm van Bakel, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at ISMMS.

The study also suggests that the virus was likely circulating as early as January 2020 in the New York City area.

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