Los Angeles ERs May Have Seen Signs of Coronavirus in February
How long has coronavirus been circulating in L.A. County? That’s a question many are beginning to ask as healthcare workers recall a spate of mysterious respiratory illnesses that popped up in ERs in February.
The first case of coronavirus in L.A. County was announced on Jan. 26. But the patient had just returned from Wuhan, China. It wasn’t until March that officials detected the first case of community spread.
Were infected people spreading coronavirus in public weeks earlier? As the Los Angeles Times reports, some nurses and physicians now think so.
In late February, doctors around Los Angeles County began seeing an unexpected rise in the number of patients with mild, flu-like illnesses. The timing was definitely odd. Hospital emergency departments had already dealt with two “spikes” in flu cases. The number of patients with flu symptoms had been falling, from a little more than 100 cases per 1,000 patients at the beginning of the month to around 65 cases per 1,000 a few weeks later. The number of lab tests that came back positive for influenza was dropping too. Now health officials think it was an early sign that the novel coronavirus from China was on the loose in the Southland.
Some of these patients were tested in mid-March at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Out of 131 samples, 7 were positive for coronavirus. Most of those people had mild symptoms and may have gone on to infect strangers.
Widespread antibody testing will provide the best clues about when coronavirus arrived in L.A. and how soon it began spreading. A new antibody test has just been approved by the FDA.