Coronavirus monitoring: more than 1,000 flights from affected countries flew to LAX during the spread of the virus

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LOS ANGELES (KABC) – Analysis of ABC7 data sheds new light on how Los Angeles became one of the hotspots for the spread of the coronavirus. As the COVID-19 epidemic took root in China, Italy and Spain, more than 1,000 direct flights from these countries landed at LAX.

From December to March, at least 1,080 flights left China on direct routes to Los Angeles and thousands more flew directly to other American cities, according to an ABC7 Eyewitness News analysis of more than 20 million Flight records obtained from Flightradar24. Hundreds of flights continued from China to Los Angeles long after the government imposed restrictions on flights from China.

“The United States banned travel to China 12 days after the world learned that there was a severe pneumonia epidemic in Wuhan … The problem was that it was too late,” said Dr. Todd Ellerin, infectious disease chief at South Shore Health. and an ABC News consultant. “Even though there had only been 12 confirmed cases in the United States on the day President Trump announced the travel ban, the reality was that there were many more unconfirmed cases. “

But it was not just China. Data analysis also shows 27 flights from Italy to LAX. At least half a dozen were in March, long after the epidemic had spread to that country.

The analysis also shows 115 flights direct from Spain during this period, including dozens in March.

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Dr. John Brownstein, epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and contributor to ABC News, said that such a massive trip meant that the flow of the virus to the United States and other countries probably came soon after ‘it had started to spread rapidly in China.

“So we believe that even as early as January, we were seeing case introductions worldwide and specifically in the United States,” he said.

Brownstein also stated that many passengers on these flights were either infected with mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

“We were sowing this epidemic in many places, but we were going blind because we weren’t doing the proper tests that were needed,” said Brownstein.

Passengers at certain airports were supposed to be screened, according to Brian Sumers, aviation editor at Skift.

“But if you talk to people who’ve been there, it will tell you that there really wasn’t as much screening as expected,” said Sumers.

The analysis paints a picture of how travelers could have reached points across the country. Nationally, flights from China, Italy and Spain have reached at least 15 states. In addition, during the same period, cities that took at least 100 flights from China, Italy and Spain were the departure points for flights to all states in the country.

And even now, airlines continue to operate flights across the country. According to Sumers, it’s because “the US government wants it.”

“Last week, most major airlines said they would take $ 25 billion in government grants to pay their people, and in return, airlines said they would continue to fly to all destinations. they serve, ”said Sumers.

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