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New York coronavirus outbreak originated in Europe, new study finds

A new study has found evidence that the first COVID-19 cases in New York City originated in Europe and occurred as early as February.

The study, published online by medRxiv and led by researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, traced the origin of the outbreak in New York City by analyzing complete genomes of the virus across four boroughs and two neighboring towns prior to March 18.

Researchers found that COVID-19 in New York City “predominately arose through untracked transmission between the United States and Europe, with limited evidence supporting direct introductions from China, where the virus originated, or other locations in Asia.”

It is important to note that the study has not been peer reviewed.

With over 5,000 fatalities in the metropolitan area, New York City quickly became one of the major epicenters of SARS-CoV-2 — more commonly known as COVID-19 — infections in the U.S., according to the study.

Despite early initial screening measures and a series of nationwide travel restrictions from other infected nations like China, Iran and later Europe, the study identified the first case in New York on Feb. 29.

Research teams looked at 90 complete genomes of the virus from 84 of more than 800 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases within the Mount Sinai Health System.

“We sequenced complete genomes from COVID-19 cases identified up to March 18,” Dr. Harm van Bakel, associate professor of genetics and genomic sciences at ISMMS, said.

“These cases were drawn from 21 New York City neighborhoods across four boroughs (Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn), as well as two towns in neighboring Westchester County.”