Cryptic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Washington State

medRxiv. 2020 Apr 6;2020.04.02.20051417. doi: 10.1101/2020.04.02.20051417. Preprint


Following its emergence in Wuhan, China, in late November or early December 2019, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has rapidly spread throughout the world. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic. Genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 strains allows for the reconstruction of transmission history connecting these infections. Here, we analyze 346 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from samples collected between 20 February and 15 March 2020 from infected patients in Washington State, USA. We found that the large majority of SARS-CoV-2 infections sampled during this time frame appeared to have derived from a single introduction event into the state in late January or early February 2020 and subsequent local spread, strongly suggesting cryptic spread of COVID-19 during the months of January and February 2020, before active community surveillance was implemented. We estimate a common ancestor of this outbreak clade as occurring between 18 January and 9 February 2020. From genomic data, we estimate an exponential doubling between 2.4 and 5.1 days. These results highlight the need for large-scale community surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 introductions and spread and the power of pathogen genomics to inform epidemiological understanding.

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  • Preprint