BackgroundThe severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused global disruption of human health and activity. Being able to trace the early outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 within a locality can inform public health measures and provide insights to contain or prevent viral transmission. Investigation of the transmission history requires efficient sequencing methods and analytic strategies, which can be generally useful in the study of viral outbreaks.
MethodsThe County of Los Angeles (hereafter, LA County) sustained a large outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). To learn about the transmission history, we carried out surveillance viral genome sequencing to determine 142 viral genomes from unique patients seeking care at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health System. 86 of these genomes were from samples collected before April 19, 2020.
ResultsWe found that the early outbreak in LA County, as in other international air travel hubs, was seeded by multiple introductions of strains from Asia and Europe. We identified a USA-specific strain, B.1.43, which was found predominantly in California and Washington State. While samples from LA County carried the ancestral B.1.43 genome, viral genomes from neighboring counties in California and from counties in Washington State carried additional mutations, suggesting a potential origin of B.1.43 in Southern California. We quantified the transmission rate of SARS-CoV-2 over time, and found evidence that the public health measures put in place in LA County to control the virus were effective at preventing transmission, but might have been undermined by the many introductions of SARS-CoV-2 into the region.
ConclusionOur work demonstrates that genome sequencing can be a powerful tool for investigating outbreaks and informing the public health response. Our results reinforce the critical need for the USA to have coordinated inter-state responses to the pandemic.