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Go read this report on how coronavirus started spreading in Seattle

Go read this report on how coronavirus started spreading in Seattle


Patient zero did everything right, but Seattle is still the worst outbreak in America

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Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

It seems obvious now that the coronavirus is going to reshape the ways we interact with each other: conferences have been canceled, the stock market is tanking, and white collar employers have begun the process of asking their staff to work from home instead of at the office. Life under an outbreak is difficult — not only because the causative agent is basically invisible and incredibly infectious, but also because even if you do everything right you might still become a victim.

A report in Bloomberg published yesterday told the story of the first coronavirus patient in Seattle — the person who would start the outbreak that has become the worst in the country, claiming (so far) 23 lives and infecting about 140 more. “County health officials located more than 60 people who’d come in contact with him, and none developed the virus in the following weeks. By Feb. 21, he was deemed fully recovered,” the authors write. “Somehow, someone was missed.”

What follows in the piece is a painstaking reconstruction of the early days of the coronavirus epidemic in Seattle. It’s a worthwhile read, especially because it underscores how even the most painstaking medical detective work has been rendered useless by the infectiousness of the virus itself. And Seattle’s cases aren’t just confined to the city: according to genetic reconstruction, the state’s early cases may have started with the infections on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which recently docked in California after being held off the coast of San Francisco for four days.

In a connected world, epidemics spread faster than ever. In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before a disease took advantage of our interconnectedness.