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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The National Institutes of Health said Tuesday morning that testing of samples from an ongoing study of Americans show a very limited number of cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in five U.S. states as early as Jan. 7, 2020.

Why it matters: Calling it another "piece of the puzzle" of when and how the coronavirus pandemic began, the NIH researchers say this offers more evidence that the virus was in the U.S. at the end of December.

The latest: Researchers for the long-term project All of Us, which was created to reach out to underrepresented communities and build a diverse health database, tested 24,079 blood samples that had been gathered in 50 states before the pandemic shut down face-to-face services on March 18, 2020.

  • They found antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in nine samples, confirmed via two separate platforms to minimize false positives, per the study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
  • They were not found in the main hubs of later hotspot activity, in New York and Seattle, but instead the nine samples were located in Illinois, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

What they're saying: "Our study doesn't speak to the overall origin of the virus," says Sheri Schully, a co-author of the paper and acting chief medical and scientific officer of All of Us.

  • "We haven't followed up with these participants to know if they had traveled outside the U.S., or had contact with folks who traveled outside the U.S. But, it is important, for future pandemic planning, to know what's happening during periods of low prevalence in epidemics, such as this," Schully tells Axios.
  • She says they did not examine samples prior to Jan. 2, 2020. But, this does add further data to a prior study by the CDC indicating some Americans may have been infected in December 2019.

The bottom line: "We continue to add more pieces to this story about low levels of disease and infection prior to the recognition of the epidemic at larger magnitude," Keri Althoff, co-author and associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Axios.

Go deeper: NIH expands its COVID-19 research in underrepresented communities

Go deeper

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Florida. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Sep 22, 2021 - Health

Brazil's health minister tests positive for COVID during UN summit in N.Y.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga in Brasilia, Brazil, in May. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga has tested positive for COVID-19 while in New York City for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), he confirmed Tuesday night.

Why it matters: Hours earlier, Queirog had accompanied Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to the UNGA. The Biden administration expressed concern last week that the gathering of world leaders could become a coronavirus "superspreader event."

Sep 22, 2021 - Health

FDA approves Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people at high risk of severe COVID-19 and people 65 years and older.

Driving the news: The approval comes just days after an FDA advisory panel recommended boosters for the two groups but overwhelmingly voted against the third shots for younger Americans.