Los Angeles’ stay at home orders started in March as the cases of COVID-19 began surging across the United States, but UCLA researchers have learned that the coronavirus may have started its spread in L.A. as early as December.
UCLA researchers announced Thursday that they saw an increase of patients dealing with coughs and acute respiratory failure in its hospitals and clinics in late December, which suggests that the virus could have been circulating months before the U.S. confirmed its first definitive cases.
The number of patients with similar symptoms began to rise through February. UCLA says the spike in patients experiencing respiratory system-related symptoms represents an unexpected 50% increase in such cases when compared with the same time period in each of the previous five years.
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“The pandemic has really highlighted our need for agile health care analytics that enable real-time symptom and disease surveillance using electronic health records data,” said UCLA Health’s Dr. Michael Pfeffer. “Technology, including artificial intelligence powered by machine learning, has further potential to identify and track irregular changes in health data, including significant excesses of patients with specific disease-type presentations in the weeks or months prior to an outbreak.”
UCLA also reported that it had also seen an increase in the number of patients seen in emergency departments for coughs and acute respiratory failure in the same late 2019 period.
Los Angeles is far from the the only U.S. city that could have been exposed to coronavirus before March. The New York Times reported a number of hidden outbreaks went undetected in a number of other cities across the nation including San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Seattle.
As of Thursday, the United States shows more than 6.3 million positive COVID-19 cases and upwards of 190,200 deaths related to the infectious disease. Los Angeles County, which has seen steady decreases in the past couple of days, has racked up a total of 249,859 positive cases and almost 6,100 deaths.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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