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Researchers trace Arizona’s early COVID-19 outbreak to 11 travelers



FILE – This illustration from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV). (CDC via AP, File)

PHOENIX (AP) – At least 11 people infected with COVID-19 traveled to Arizona and transmitted the disease to others, starting local transmission chains that spotted the state̵

7;s earliest coronavirus outbreak, which started in mid-February, according to a recently published study .

Looking at genomes sequenced from virus samples collected in March and early April, the researchers found that 80% of the genomes examined originated from the 11 people. They probably arrived through domestic travel, but the genomes can eventually be traced back to virus strains that circulated strongly in Europe before coming to the United States, the researchers found.

These are among the findings of the first article published by the Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union, organized early in the outbreak by researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute and Arizona’s three universities. Their peer-reviewed results appear in the journal “mBio.”

They found that a person from Arizona State University who was isolated in January with COVID-19 after traveling to the epicenter of the eruption in China’s Hubei province did not infect anyone else.

“We were able to determine that public health interventions work,” said Brendan Larson, a Ph.D. students at the University of Arizona working on the project.

The paper looks at only a fraction of the 3,000 Arizona genomes mapped so far. The researchers ultimately hope to map 10,000 genomes and publish more findings. Among the issues they plan to investigate is the effectiveness of home orders. If people complied with them, researchers would expect different virus strains to circulate in different areas of the state with minimal inter-county mixing, they said.

Using powerful computers, researchers can locate random mutations in the genomes of viral samples and build a kind of pedigree that shows the genus from a sample to those that came before it.

The State Department of Health Services reported 695 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, most in nearly two weeks, and 27 new deaths. The number of hospital beds and ventilators used by patients with COVID-19 remained stable, well below the peak from mid-July. But visits to the emergency room of patients suspected of having COVID-19 crossed up to 916 after being well below 900 since early September.

For all articles, information and updates on coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.


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