As of June 13, 2021 there have been over 176 million cases of COVID-19, and over 3.8 million deaths from the virus, worldwide. The United States alone has accounted for more than 34 million of these cases, and over 600,000 of the deaths. Moreover, the economic and social impacts of this past year have still to be fully understood. Though vaccination efforts are having an effect in the reduction of cases, the fact of the matter is that the virus is not going to disappear overnight. Pressure continues to be felt by officials in DC in the need to determine how the virus orginated. Though work is being done, there has been, as of yet, no defintive proof of how the virus made the jump to humans.
In a step towards narrowing down the likely origin for Congress, a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report has been issued presenting the a number of ways that the COVID-19 virus might have emerged. The four potential origins are presented in the report from most to least likely.
- Introduction through an intermediate host: This origin hypothesis suggests that an animal host species, wherein the virus lived, grew, and multiplied, ended up carrying the virus and then transmitted it to humans. The independent research team determined this was a likely-to-very-likely scenario, though as of this report there have been no intermediate hosts identified.
- Direct zoonotic spillover: In this origin hypothesis, COVID-19 might have been transmitted from an animal host to a human host through a spillover event. This is to say that a bat (which have been found to carry a genetically similar version of the virus) was infected with the virus, came into contact with a human, and the virus jumped species. The independent research team determined this was a possible-to-likely-scenario.
- Introduction through cold/food-chain products: In this scenario, people might have contracted the virus initially through coming into contact with contaminated food, as the virus has been previously identified on frozen food, its packaging, and in cold-chain products. The independent research team determined that this was a possible scenario.
- Introduction through a laboratory incident: The last scenario presented is one in which laboratory staff accidently contracted and spread the virus following research being done on coronaviruses in bats. Citing a previous World Health Organization (WHO) report, the authors present that an intentional release of the virus was not considered as that had been ruled out by other scientists. Overall, the independent research team concluded that this last scenario as the origin of COVID-19 was an extremely unlikely one.
Though research continues to be done on tracking down the true origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, as things currently stand no source of the virus has been conclusively tracked down. The report goes on to recommend that further studies into the origin of the virus continue, as well as called for regular administrative and internal reviews of high-level biosafety labs around the world in order to acquire additional data for examination.
As these research efforts continue, and more data is collected and examined, we can hope that the true origins of the virus will eventually be brought to light and that this will lead to greater cooperation in the international community that such an outbreak will not happen again.
Salaam-Blyther, Tiaji, Pervaze A. Sheikh, Hassan Z. Sheikh, Sara M. Tharakan, Randy Schnepf, Mary Beth D. Nikitin, and Katarina C. O'Regan. 2021. "Origins of the COVID-19 Pandemic." CRS Report No. IF11822. Retrieved from: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11822 on June 13, 2021.
Numbers on COVID-19 cases and deaths retrieved from: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ on June 13, 2021.