Researchers working on a new study from Stanford Medicine are conducting blood tests that detect antibodies, which can show whether an individual has or previously had COVID-19. The study was recently discussed by KSBW, a news station in Monterey, California. They aired a story about California’s potential “herd immunity” to the novel coronavirus.
In the KSBW piece, the author cites Victor Davis Hanson, a Stanford-affiliated source who advances the theory that COVID-19 might have actually begun spreading in California in fall 2019.
“[Stanford’s] data could help to prove COVID-19 arrived undetected in California much earlier than previously thought.”
This theory was widely spread and quite appealing, especially to people who had respiratory illnesses in late 2019 that they now believe could’ve been COVID-19. Suchlike people believe they might have some immunity to the virus. Therefore, if a large portion of American residents has immunity to the virus, they can leave behind the quarantine measurements. However, according to Slate Group, that theory has no scientific basis, and it spreads dangerous misinformation.
To begin with, the Slate Group’s reporter reached out to Stanford Medicine to find more information about the goals of its antibody test, and how it relates to Hanson’s fall 2019 theory. Lisa Kim of Stanford’s media relations team responded:
“Our research does not suggest that the virus was here that early.”
Additionally, Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center tweeted:
Earliest transmission in the US was January 2020. There is zero probability it was circulating in fall 2019.
— Trevor Bedford (@trvrb) April 9, 2020
According to Bedford, who has been tracking SARS-CoV-2’s genetic code as it has spread, “There is zero probability” the virus was circulating in the fall of 2019.
The genomic epidemiologist Allison Black, who’s working in Bedford’s lab believes this is apparent from researchers’ data. While the virus spreads, it also mutates. Researchers can track strains of the coronavirus back to its origins by sequencing the virus’s genome from different individual samples. They offer real-time tracking of their findings in Nextstrain.
Nextstrain’s researchers have tracked the virus back to a single source “somewhere between mid-November and early December,” which then spread in China. This was stated in The Scientist by Richard Neher, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
According to Nextstrain’s sequencing work, the earliest coronavirus cases in the U.S. appeared in January 2020.
As humans have no natural immunity to the novel COVID-19, if the theory was true, and the virus had arrived earlier, we would definitely be aware. The deadly virus is currently infecting millions and killing thousands of people.
If there was an outbreak during the fall of 2019, it would have a similar tragical effect.
“If it had arrived in fall of 2019, and we were all living our lives as normal, we would’ve had New York back in fall of 2019.”
The cited source, Victor Davis Hanson, is actually a military historian, not a doctor or scientist.
He is associated with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a research institution located at Stanford University in California. As the KSBW piece does not explain what the Hoover Institution is, it presents Hanson’s “theory” as an introduction to their explanation of Stanford Medicine’s study.
Recently, the National Review has published Hanson’s latest work, displaying his ambitions about the reopening of the American economy. Clearly, it would be convenient to claim that coronavirus has already broken through the U.S. and its residents have been granted immunity to it.
Moreover, the military historian suggests that the virus’s spread in California came from Chinese nationals visiting the state. This reveals a political motive for his claim. Besides, in a recent article for Fox News, Hanson argues that America already has too many Chinese nationals visiting, studying, or collaborating in the country, and that post-coronavirus America should “wake up” and make changes.
The truth is, it’s certainly possible that some of the transmission cases in the states came from Chinese citizens. However, current genomic analyses show that there are several cases of Americans who traveled to China and brought it back with them. Those transmissions, along with the cases that entered the states via other countries, like Italy, wouldn’t have been prevented if the Chinese nationals’ access to the U.S. was limited.
Thousands of people have already shared Hanson’s article, advancing his reportedly incorrect theory.
The thought that some Americans are immune to the novel virus could be quite comforting, so when people see something that lifts their hopes, they gladly share it.
Frankly, with the speed the news change lately, it may be hard to keep track of what’s real and what’s fake. But when we’re in doubt, it’s best to dig a little deeper and research our sources.