How the Virus Won

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It started small.

A man near Seattle had a persistent cough. A woman in Chicago had a fever and shortness of breath. By mid-February, there were only 15 known coronavirus cases in the United States, all with direct links to China.

“The 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” President Donald Trump said. The patients were isolated. Their contacts were monitored. Travel from China was restricted.

The China travel ban was a partial success: Only a handful of infected travelers from China are estimated to have made it into the country undetected before restrictions were imposed Feb. 2. But it wasn’t enough. Only a small part of the picture was visible.

A vast wave of infected travelers — roughly 1,000, one model suggests — came in February from other countries in Asia, Europe and the rest of the world, each a dangerous spark that could set off a wider outbreak.

Many of those infections died out. But by mid-February, a few caught fire and became outbreaks, spreading invisibly. Some 2,000 hidden infections were already spreading through major U.S. cities.

Many of those infections died out. But by mid-February, a few caught fire and became outbreaks, spreading invisibly. Some 2,000 hidden infections were already spreading through major U.S. cities.

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