The Pandemic Starts
This next section of timeline details the early indications of a novel (new) viral epidemic developing in the city of Wuhan, China, with some outlying cases appearing in other parts of the world.
November – December 2019
A report published May 23, 2021, reveals that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care. Intelligence reports speculate these were early cases of COVID-19, but there appears to be no hard evidence of this.
Researchers mapped the genomes of numerous COVID-19 genetic lineages from across the world, which allows them to pull each genetic thread back to a common starting point, placing it both in the stream of genetic evolution and in time. All the analyzed lineages lead back to an origin point in late November or early December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
December 13 – 16
Person-to-person spreads of the new disease is occurring in Wuhan by mid-December, and cases are beginning to double every seven days.
Scientists in Italy find traces of the new coronavirus in wastewater collected from Milan and Turin on December 18, 2019 – suggesting COVID-19 was already circulating in northern Italy before China reported the first cases. Published June 19, 2020
Medical testing industry leader BGI receives a sample of the new virus from a Wuhan hospital for sequencing. The company is unaware that this virus has sickened many people.
The first possible known case of Coronavirus appears in Paris, France, identified in a man admitted to a hospital. Based on known progression of the virus, the man must have become infected between December 14 to 22. (The medical identification as Coronavirus is based on tests of archival material and reported May 5, 2020.)
A French delegation took part in the 7th edition of the World Military Games in Wuhan from October 18 to 27 – just 20 days before the first Chinese person officially became ill with coronavirus. Participating French athletes have been quoted in French media as speculating that they may have brought the virus back home with them.
Probable cases of Coronavirus appears in two residents of Snohomish County, Washington, USA. One of these residents says she fell ill shortly after Christmas with a dry cough, fever and body aches. (The medical identification as Coronavirus is based on tests conducted in May 2020).
Ai Fen, a top director at Wuhan Central Hospital, posts information on WeChat about the new virus. She was then reprimanded by officials and told not to spread information about it. Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang also shares information on WeChat about the new SARS-like virus. He is called in for questioning by Chinese officials shortly afterward. Simultaneously, the Wuhan health commission notifies hospitals of a “pneumonia of unclear cause” and orders them to report any related information.
A research mission to Wuhan, China in February 2021 discovers signs the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in December 2019 than previously thought, hitting an estimated 1,000-plus people. The mission had found several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including establishing for the first time there were 13 different strains of the virus in Wuhan already in December. These 13 different strains might indicate the virus spread in China for some time, undetected, before the outbreak was reported.
A research mission to Wuhan, China in February 2021 discovers signs the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in December 2019 than previously thought, hitting an estimated 1,000-plus people. The mission finds several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including establishing for the first time there were 13 different strains of the virus in Wuhan already in December. These 13 different strains might indicate the virus spread in China for some time, undetected, before the December outbreak in Wuhan.
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I built this timeline from a set of working notes in spreadsheet format. At present, my working notes have 1247 news entries, in addition to other references that form my “Additional Reading” sidebar entries, and other source references. Not all these news items are published in this timeline, for various reasons. My notes are freely available under a Creative Commons license (BY SA) to any writer or researcher who finds this work useful.
When Did It Start?
A study, published November 30, 2020, reports that archived blood samples from 7,389 routine blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from 13 December 2019 to 17 January 2020 from donors resident in 9 states, showed the COVID-19 antibodies were detected in 106 specimens from California, Oregon, and Washington, as early as 13–16 December 2019.
“Serologic Testing of US Blood Donations to Identify Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)–Reactive Antibodies: December 2019–January 2020”
A study published June 15, 2021, in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reports that blood samples taken from 24,000 subjects who gave blood between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020 as part of
“Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in All of Us Research Program Participants, January 2-March 18, 2020”