Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Aug. 10, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Merlin traces coronavirus timeline

By , Columbian Editor

As I was editing yet another story about the toll COVID-19 has taken on our community, I tried to remember how it all began.

When was our first story about this new virus? I couldn’t recall.

I queried Merlin, our electronic archive. Merlin remembered a lot. As of Monday, we’d carried 4,941 stories containing the term “COVID,” of which 1,381 were written by our staff. Surely by now we have eclipsed 5,000 total stories and 1,400 local stories.

Here was the first story I could find in Merlin, from Bloomberg News:

Pneumonia outbreak spurs WHO action

Publication date: Jan. 7, 2020 Page: A7 Section: World

MELBOURNE, Australia — A mysterious lung infection in the Chinese city of Wuhan is being monitored by the World Health Organization, which said it’s in active communication with its counterparts in China, where an investigation is underway to determine the cause. …

As of Friday, 44 people had been diagnosed with pneumonia, the cause of which is unknown, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement. …

Pathogen studies have ruled out more common respiratory diseases, including influenza, avian flu and adenovirus, Wuhan health authorities said. All the patients are being treated under quarantine, according to the commission. …

It’s not known whether a SARS-like “coronavirus” has been identified, although there have been “numerous unsubstantiated reports mentioning a novel coronavirus that is SARS-like,” the International Society for Infectious Diseases’ ProMED-mail program said Friday.

The story piqued my curiosity, so I kept looking. Our next mention of the term “novel coronavirus” was on Jan. 21, in a Page A5 article headlined “Human-to-human transmission confirmed in China coronavirus.”

The story said “The late-night announcement capped a day in which authorities announced a sharp uptick in the number of confirmed cases to more than 200, and China’s leader called on the government to take every possible step to combat the outbreak. …

“In Geneva, the World Health Organization announced it would convene an Emergency Committee meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak warrants being declared a global health crisis.”

From there, the disaster unfolded. This is from the next day, Jan. 22: “The U.S. on Tuesday reported its first case of a new and potentially deadly virus circulating in China, saying a Washington resident who returned last week from the outbreak’s epicenter was hospitalized near Seattle. … U.S. officials stressed that they believe the virus’ overall risk to the American public remained low. … ‘This is not a moment of high anxiety,’ Gov. Jay Inslee said.”

The story was played on Page A3. In hindsight, I think we should have run this story on A1!

Our first local story appeared less than a week later, on Jan. 28. It was also our first front-page story. It was headlined “Official: Despite case in state, coronavirus risk low in county,” and quoted Dr. Alan Melnick, the county health officer, as saying local officials were paying a lot of attention to the virus and increasing outreach and education. “The risk to people in Clark County is incredibly low right now,’ Melnick said.

By Feb. 15, the scourge had a name: COVID-19, and we first used it on Page A3 that day in a story that questioned how China was reporting its cases and asked whether the virus was actually surging.

We answered that question on March 3 with this story: “Clark County awaiting 7 test results for virus” and on March 8, with results released the day before: “COVID-19 confirmed in Clark County.”

“A man in his 70s was confirmed as Clark County’s first COVID-19 case late Friday night,” we reported.

On March 18, we reported the first local deaths, to a married couple in their 80s. The plague was upon us.

This week, we reported on the first vaccines arriving in Clark County.

I wonder what date we will report that there have been no new local COVID-19 cases for two consecutive weeks? That’s the story I want to edit.

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