China is NOT to blame for the COVID-19 epidemic in the US

As President, Donald has told tens of thousands of lies. In many cases, he can hide behind the silence of his loyal supporters. However, when it comes to the coronavirus epidemic the details are on TV, in the press, and in publicly available databases for all the world to see.

One of his most egregious lies is that China is to blame for the epidemic. A May 20 story in USA today says “As the political rhetoric blaming China for the pandemic escalates, law enforcement officials and human rights advocates have seen an increasing number of hate crimes and incidents of harassment and discrimination against Asian Americans.” Trump has fanned these flames in his rallies, referring to the virus as the “Kung flu.”

One of the most incredible lies (i.e., too extraordinary and improbable to be believed) is that the corona virus was made in a laboratory in Wuhan. To protect this lie, the White House directed the National Institutes of Health to cancel funding for a project studying how coronaviruses spread from bats to people. The NIH typically only cancels active grant when there is scientific misconduct or improper financial behavior, neither of which it has occurred in this case. The PI on the grant, Dr. Peter Daszak, is President of EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based organization that conducts research and outreach programs on global health, conservation and international development. His research has been instrumental in identifying and predicting the origins and impact of emerging disease, which is very important for avoiding future pandemics..

Early Spread.  A special report published on July 5 in the New York Times gives new information about the early days of the epidemic. In mid-February the official case count was 15 but there is evidence of 2000 other infections. Given what we now know about the spread of the disease, it is natural to guess that many of these cases were asymptomatic. However, as explained in the paper cited in the next paragraph, part of the discrepancy was due to the fact that testing done before March 4, 2020 was only done for symptomatic patients who had recently traveled internationally.

This idea that the corona virus was widespread in the US in January 2020 was discussed in news stories about Alessandro Vepignani’s work. These appeared on the Northeastern web site in April, but the paper has only recently appeared on the medRxiv: Jessica T. Davis et al. Estimating the establishment of local transmission and the cryptic phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Their conclusions are based on the use of a rather complicated individual-based, stochastic and spatial epidemic model called  GLEAM (GLobal Epidemic and Mobility Model) that divides the global population 3200 subpopulations. See PNAS 166 (2009), 21484-21489 and J. Computational Science 1 (2010), 132-145 for more details.

Origins of the virus in the US.  Recently two genetic sequencing studies published online in Science, have investigated the origins of the corona virus in US. A.S. Gonzalez-Reiche et al, published on May 29, 2020 studied Introductions and early spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the New York City area. Phylogenetic analysis of 84 distinct SARS-CoV-2 genomes from samples taken February 29 – March 18 provided evidence for multiple, independent introduction . Phylogenetic analysis of full length genome sequences suggested that the majority of the introductions came from Europe and other parts of the United States.

A medRxiv preprint by M.T. Maurano et al which reports on the analysis of 864 SARS-CoV-2 sequences, reached the same conclusion: comparisons to global viral sequences showed that early strains was most likely linked to cases from Europe

Deng et al, published on June 8, 2020 studied the introduction of Sars-CoV-2 into Northern California. They studied 36 patients spanning 9 counties and the Grand Princess cruise ship using a method they called MSSPE (Metagenomic Sequencing with Spiked Primer Enrichment) to assemble genomes directly from clinical samples. Phylogenetic analysis described in detail in the paper indicated that 14 were associated with the Washington State WA1 lineage, 10 associated with a Santa Clara outbreak cluster (SCC1), 3 from a Solano County cluster, 5 related to lineages circulating in Europe but only 4 related to lineages from Wuhan. This precision comes from the fact that as of March 20, 2020 when this work was done, there were 789 worldwide genomes in the GISAID database. This wealth of data is possible because coronaviruses are unsegmented single-stranded RNA viruses that are about 30 kilobases in length.

The results in the last three paragraphs demonstrate that most lineages came from Europe not China. In hindsight the fact that Europe is the primary source of coronavirus is the US. Travel from China was banned February 2, but travel from Europe was only ended on March 13.

I have concentrated on the science.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want the Senate to vote for Thom Tillis’ 18-point plan in May “to hold China accountable” for what he says is its role in the coronavirus pandemic.

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