The idea that many of us had COVID-19 in late Jan/early Feb

With the news from WaPo that the earliest known COVID-19 death is now from early February (in California), I want to readdress this anecdotal notion that’s rampant in comment sections across the internet that many, many people had COVID-19 in late January or February.

My own anecdote is that my wife came down with a respiratory illness in late January – 2 to 3 days of high fever, lethargy, loss of taste/smell, and a persistent cough for about 3 weeks after that. I came down with the same thing about 7-10 days later, one of my daughters had a similar set of symptoms in between but a much faster recovery, my son had some mild symptoms that we didn’t really pay much attention to. Only my oldest remained symptom free.

Our friends in the medical community said that there was a widespread respiratory illness going around during that time; schools were dealing with a lot of absences. Based on the known SARS-COV-2 timeline I think we all agreed that it was certainly not COVID-19, as suspicious/similar as the symptoms were. Note also that I’m in Ohio, not exactly a coastal travel hub.

I still think everyone in the comments section, myself included, who had COVID-like symptoms earlier in the year did NOT have COVID, but doubts are starting to creep in. Are we still certain that it was something else?

Is it possible? Sure. But it shares too many symptoms with the flu and severe colds, and even hay fever & dust/mold allergies to know anything without an accurate and widely distributed antibodies test. I mean, maybe if everyone who had been sick in January and February had gotten chest x-rays we could be more certain without the tests, but most didn’t.

Is it though? I’ve been operating under the assumption that it’s not possible, or at least so unlikely as to be effectively impossible, given what we know about the timeline of the spread. Is our understanding of that possibility changing?

I still think it’s very unlikely – I had something in early February too that would have fit the profile (mild sickness for a week, suddenly I felt a lot worse, then got better) but surely if it were widespread we would have seen surges in hospitals before March. Especially since I didn’t think I had anything worse than a cold for the first week so I went to church and sang in choir (which is basically spitting on people) – church is a petri dish at the best of times, and with something super contagious like this I think all of us would have been down in a couple of weeks and that we would have seen multiple hospitalizations and deaths just from the church population alone (~150 people, lots of older people) – but we didn’t.

It is unlikely, but we may never really resolve the uncertainty. No matter what anyone says, there’s no way Every Living Person in the country is going to be be tested for exposure in the near short term: if and when it happens, by that time it will have been after months at least, so most would not know when it happened.

My brother had something mid-February that had gone through his warehouse very quickly, taking down everyone. It took down everyone in his house (wife, 8yo, 10yo) but they all had different symptoms. My brother said he had “the weirdest cough he’s ever had” - not producing anything but every time he breathed it’d make him cough.

Sadly, he then passed this on to my dad who has COPD and emphysema. Within 3 days of visiting with my brother, dad was in the ICU with pneumonia, bronchitis and tested positive for Influenza A. He never ended up on a ventilator - as far as I know it was oxygen and steroids that righted him. Dad had indeed gotten a flu shot, so we assumed he got the flu that wasn’t covered by this year’s shot. And/or, having the flu shot saved his ass.

I remember thinking at the time that a lot of people were coming down with the flu this year. I must have seen people talk about it on Facebook, and I know at least 2 people I work with at the city had something or their family did.

My brother’s convinced he had it but I dunno. My dad (with his COPD and emphysema) was fine in a few days w/o a ventilator. I feel like if he had covid-19, he’d have died.

The earlier then previously known COVID deaths (two I heard this morning) were in NorCal in Santa Clara County. I had a dry, but persistent, cough in early March for about a week, but no fever and otherwise felt fine. This was following my son being sick with a slight fever for a couple days where we kept him home from school (HS senior), which is a rarity. His cough lingered for about a week after the fever. We did not really think anything of either of these occurrences until after COVID starting blowing up. It is a possibility for sure that we might have had it at that point. If it turns out we had it, we were probably spreading the damn thing. :mad:

However, for everyone, it is just speculation if YOU (or me) have had it, at this point, until you have taken the serology test for the antibodies and come up positive. I would guess that more data may yet emerge showing where and when the virus first appeared in the US (or whatever country you are in) and there may yet be more revelations on this front in terms of deaths from COVID.

Back in February a co-worker of mine, who lives near Youngstown, Ohio, became seriously ill. Dry cough, high fever, coughing up blood. He’s an otherwise healthy 50-something. He only shows up to our office in NW Ohio every other week so it was 4 weeks before we saw him again. He was much better but still felt rough as a bears arse in general.

Then one of our drivers became ill. Same symptoms minus the blood. This guys is in his 30s. This was in March but they refused to test him because, in spite of being told by his doc to go the ER for breathing difficulties, they wouldn’t admit him so no test for him. He was ordered to quarantine until he met the criteria to return to work which was about 2-1/2 weeks later. He said it was the scariest illness he’s ever had.

Also back in February my good friend becomes ill after a person in her office building returns from China. Her ENTIRE department became ill and she said that has never happened in all the years she’s worked there.
They all had varying degrees of illness. Hers went on for weeks with the persistent cough and fatigue being the worst of it. The day she realized she was sick a group of us attended a lecture where one in the group had suddenly come down with a high fever but then the next day was ok.

After exposure to this my wife becomes ill. She has a horrid cough, sore throat, and extreme fatigue. It persisted for 2-1/2 weeks. I started to feel ill during this time. Felt feverish but didn’t have a thermometer, my chest felt heavy and tight and I felt like I had been run over by a car. Two days later I felt fine.
The whole thing was very weird and I don’t know what to make of it. Me, my wife, and my two friends had all had the flu shot so it ruled out at least one strain of flu.
All of us are proceeding as though we are still at risk for Covid-19 but are left wondering…

Coronaviruses are actually one of the major causes of the “common cold”. IIRC about 20% of viral respiratory infections are caused by some variety of coronavirus. These viruses don’t cause severe respiratory failure like SARS CoV-2 (or the original SARS), but I wouldn’t be surprised if they shared a lot of the less severe symptoms. Going by sheer numbers, there are easily tens of millions of people with “bad colds” each year, a large fraction of which are caused by the coronavirus, and January-February is the peak of the cold season.

Now there were a non-trivial number of cases of COVID-19 circulating before testing got up to speed in the US. However the overwhelming odds are that these anecdotes are “bad colds”, perhaps caused by a common but less severe coronavirus, but almost certainly not COVID-19.

Exactly. I do realize my story is purely anecdotal but it does give me pause.
There are so many viral illnesses spreading around especially in the winter.
I know it’s wishful thinking to hope me and mine have already had it so that’s why we proceed as potential vectors and potential victims.

Edited to add that I was replying to LAZYBRATSCHE.

I got this in an email from my health care provider today:

“Serology/antibody testing: An antibody test, otherwise known as a serology test, can detect if a person has had coronavirus before and has since recovered. It detects antibodies, which are proteins in the blood that fight-off infection. Serology testing has a lot of promise because it will help us understand the pervasiveness of COVID-19 in our communities. If you think you are a candidate for COVID-19 antibody testing, please discuss with your primary care doctor.”

So, apparently there is a test to detect if someone has had the virus in the past. Setting aside the issues with widespread testing at this point, it is helpful to know that it is possible to trace the virus into the past using these types of test.

We could, however, prove the negative. That is, if my family and I are somehow able to take anti-body tests, even if it’s 3 or 4 months from now, and they come back negative, and if a bunch of other people started to get negative tests as well who thought they had it in Jan/Feb, that would all be pretty conclusive evidence that something else was going around and we didn’t all get COVID-19. But if we all end up testing positive you’re right, we’d never know if that was some other illness + an asymptomatic coronavirus infection or a very early COVID-19 wave.

All I can add is that I am as healthy as a horse. Even I took a sick day in February.

My understanding is that the current antibody tests that exists are far from accurate.

Certainly, there were a lot of cases of respiratory illness in January and February in the US. I’m a substitute teacher, and I noticed that there were a lot of absences being called in (more than usual for that time of year). And we can’t rule out the possibility that a few of those cases were COVID-19.

But we can be sure that most of them weren’t. If they were, then the virus would have spread much further, much faster than it did.

Coronavirus Pandemic: Live Updates in the U.S.

Probably not. I had a flu or flu-like illness in early fall, followed by months of a dry, hacking cough. I assume it was a flu followed by reactive airway issues.

Yes…and one problem is that even if the test sounds quite accurate, it can still be inaccurate at testing for a disease with low prevalence in the population. For example, you might think that a test that returns only 2% false positives is pretty damn accurate. However, if you use it to detect a disease whose prevalence is only 0.1% in the population, then it will overestimate the prevalence by a factor of ~20 (and, if you test positive, there will actually only be about a 5% chance that you actually have the disease / antibodies).

How big the problem of false positives (or false negatives) is depends on whether you’re using the test to learn about individuals or populations. On a population level, even a test with a high failure rate (of either sort) can be quite useful, so long as the failure rate is known.

How big the problem of false positives (or false negatives) is depends on whether you’re using the test to learn about individuals or populations. On a population level, even a test with a high failure rate (of either sort) can be quite useful, so long as the failure rate is known.