Analysis points to fast spread of coronavirus

Travis Bedford
Trevor Bedford, a researcher at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, discusses how genome sequencing is being used to track the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. (Fred Hutch News Service Photo / Natalie Myers)

An evolutionary analysis based on the genome sequences of COVID-19 coronavirus samples taken from patients in the Seattle area suggests that the number of infections doubles roughly every six days, which translates into hundreds of infections over the course of the past six weeks.

So far, 18 cases have been confirmed in Western Washington, including 14 in King County and four in Snohomish County, north of Seattle. As of today, five patients have died — four in King County and one in Snohomish County.

But the analysis laid out in a series of tweets from Trevor Bedford, a researcher at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who specializes in the study of viral dynamics, concludes that many more people are likely to be part of a chain of infections leading from the first patient in the U.S. to be diagnosed with the virus. Some probably passed along the virus even though they didn’t know they were infected — a phenomenon known as “cryptic transmission.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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