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Study reveals coronavirus came to NYC mostly from Europe, not China

Coronavirus in New York City
  • A new genetic study reveals that the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in New York appears to have stemmed mostly from infected travelers from Europe, not China.
  • Researchers in New York began to pick up on this in March, around the same time as the Trump administration imposed a ban on travel from Europe around the beginning of the month.
  • New York has become the epicenter of the virus in the US, with more cases there than any other country in the world.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

New York state hit a sobering coronavirus milestone in recent days, now that it has more confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus than any other country around the world. But regardless of what New Yorkers might have thought they knew about the virus up to this point, a new genetic study reveals at least one important fact about the virus that might come as a surprise: New York City’s outbreak is attributable mostly to infected travelers coming from Europe, not China.

This comes from genome scientists and researchers at NYU Langone Health. Most of the 75 samples they analyzed from patients diagnosed with the virus were determined to have their origin in Europe, according to Adriana Heguy, director of the medical center’s Genome Technology Center. And, specifically, it seemed to be the result of infected travelers coming to NYC from the UK, as well as France, Austria, and the Netherlands, among a few other countries.

The genome center in March switched from its previous work, analyzing the building blocks of diseases like cancer, to analysis of COVID-19 pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. According to Bloomberg, an early test Heguy’s team looked at was a strain of the virus taken from a resident of Long Island who hadn’t traveled anywhere to pick it up. Their version of the virus corresponded to a strain found in England, which helps explain why the Trump administration imposed a ban on travel from Europe at the beginning of March.

As of Thursday, the number of cases in New York state has continued to explode to a new high of 159,937 — more than Spain’s and even Italy’s total (143,000).

Of course, just because strains of the virus were coming mostly from infected European travelers early on doesn’t mean there haven’t been chains of transmission throughout the area with links to other parts of the world. Per the Bloomberg report, for example, others have been found from Asia as well as the US West Coast.

In terms of where the toll from the virus stood in the US as a whole heading into the weekend, the latest numbers from Johns Hopkins University show more than 467,000 confirmed cases in the US and almost 17,000 deaths.

Andy Meek profile photo

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.