SEATTLE (AP) — Two people in Washington state who recall being sick in December have since had blood tests showing they developed antibodies for the coronavirus, but health officials aren’t counting them in their official case counts.

The positive serology tests can’t determine whether the people had the coronavirus in December, weeks before the disease was officially detected in the United States. They may have been exposed after the first recorded case. One of the people had lunch with a hospital nurse in Kirkland, for example, site of a large outbreak in a nursing home.

“They are being considered ‘probable,’ ” Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman, told The Seattle Times. “However, they are not captured in our case counts from Jan. 20 forward.”

The two people are residents of Snohomish County, north of Seattle, which has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the state with more than 2,700.

On Jan. 20, a man in Snohomish County became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S.

The man had been traveling in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak appears to have originated. He returned to the Seattle area on Jan. 15 and days later began showing symptoms.

If any Washington cases predated the first known case, there were probably very few that didn’t multiply, Dr. Jared Roach, a senior research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology, a Seattle-based biomedical research firm, told the newspaper.

Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said Friday “it’s possible — and frankly, I think more likely” that the two patients with positive blood tests didn’t have COVID-19 in December, but later picked up a mild or asymptomatic case of it.

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“But we can’t say that with 100 percent certainty,” he said. “I think that’s just the more likely scenario.”

Spitters did say it was likely that COVID-19 was introduced in the area before Jan. 20.

“And it’s reasonable to assume, given reports like the ones that we’ve had and others around the country, that introduction may have occurred prior to January, as we initially suspected,” he said.

— The Associated Press

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