Press Release

Johns Hopkins Researchers Retrace COVID-19 Introduction and Impact in D.C. Region

An effort by scientists from across Johns Hopkins University and Health System to sequence the genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, has produced a study characterizing the early introduction of the virus into the National Capital Region. Among several findings, the study points to multiple entries of the virus into the region but similar clinical presentation, indicating that — despite small genetic differences — circulating viruses are likely causing identical disease. The research also provides information about the progression of cases as quarantine procedures were implemented, and ways to study the efficacy of an eventual vaccine.

Initiated by the work of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory molecular biologists and using software and approaches developed, in part, at APL in Laurel, Maryland, the team’s early takeaways are featured in the study, which is awaiting peer review. The study was funded by the JHU COVID-19 Research Response Program, which provided seed grants to rapid response teams to find solutions and increase knowledge amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Johns Hopkins Health System diagnosed more than 37% of early COVID-19 cases in the state of Maryland, from patients living across the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Genomes for 114 of those diagnosed positive samples were sequenced, and those patients’ disease presentation and outcomes were analyzed.

Through that analysis, the team observed multiple likely introductions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus into the region, as well as in many patients with no travel or sick contact history, indicating community transmission was well established in the area in early March. What they did not detect was a distinct link between viral genetic variations and patient outcomes, such as hospital or intensive care unit (ICU) admission — meaning they found no likely connection between the virus’ genealogy and the severity of infection in patients.

“Despite observing genetic diversity in samples from the region, it appears to be clinically the same coronavirus,” said Peter Thielen, a molecular biologist in APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department and one of the co-lead authors on the study with Shirlee Wohl. “Our data does not show a linkage between patient outcome and virus genotype.”

Read more about the research here.