Seattle study detected 1st case of COVID-19 community spread in U.S.

The Seattle Flu Study, a communitywide pandemic surveillance initiative, helped uncover the first documented case of community transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to a letter to the editor published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, a multi-institutional initiative, started in November 2018. Those enrolled consented to testing to identify influenza and other respiratory illnesses. After the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Washington Jan. 20, the samples collected for the study also were tested for the new coronavirus.

The first COVID-19 case detected through the Seattle Flu Study, in a sample collected Feb. 24, was the first documented U.S. case of community transmission.

"These results initiated assessment of the spread of the virus in the Seattle region, which in turn accelerated public health efforts to mitigate the emerging pandemic," wrote the authors of the letter, including physicians and researchers across Washington state.

Implementing simple, scalable methods to collect samples from the public, which requires little or no interaction, "is critical for early detection of community cases," and is "essential infrastructure for early detection and mitigation of future pandemics," they wrote.




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