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New data suggest COVID-19 was present in China as early as the fall

iStock/AsiaVision(NEW YORK) — With over seven million people infected and 405,000 people dead due to COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, researchers are trying to determine exactly when the first coronavirus infection happened.  Satellite data suggests that the pandemic may have taken hold a lot earlier than previously thought.

A new Harvard Medical School study employed the same type of satellite tracking that intelligence agencies use to study traffic to and from hospitals in Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak.

Dr. John Brownstein, the Harvard Medical professor who led the research, says that if the satellite images are to be believed, the first cases may have arrived “late summer and early fall 2019” as evidenced by the “dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major Wuhan hospitals” around that time.

The study also looked into other data, such as web searches during that moment in time, discovering that an increase of queries looking into “certain symptoms that would later be determined as closely associated with the novel coronavirus” were on the rise at the time.

While the evidence provides a new insight into the mystery virus that gripped the globe, Brownstein says the new data is merely circumstantial at this point.  More needs to be looked into to help pinpoint the exact date when the first person came down with COVID-19.

However, Brownstein admits that “Something was happening in October,” adding, “Clearly, there was some level of social disruption taking place well before what was previously identified as the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

The virus has sickened nearly two million people in the U.S. as of Sunday and killed over 110,000 people, says Johns Hopkins University. 

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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