On January 14 the World Health Organization parroted China that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus. The next day the U.S. had its first identified case but we wouldn’t know it for six more days. New York didn’t confirm it had a case until the end of February.
Vaughn Cordle was a United Airlines Boeing 787 pilot, flying out of Beijing several times a month. He noticed an uptick in sick passengers on his flights between China and Washington Dulles as far back as December, including a co-pilot making Beijing roundtrips.
Between mid-December and mid-January, an unusually high number of passengers felt unwell on almost every flight and this included two of my copilots. One was so ill, he sweated profusely and was unable to sit in the co-pilot’s seat on our approach to Beijing airport. In the taxi, on the way to the hotel, he was violently sick and his skin was ashen gray.
On some of those flights, doctors and nurses who tended to the sick believed that the culprit was food poisoning.
The last time he flew as a United Airlines captain was January 18. After that trip Captain Cordle took ill, suffering fatigue and muscle aches for two weeks. He dropped his January 27 Beijing trip, and never flew again. He retired February 3.
It’ll require serotesting to verify that he had COVID-19 on the East Coast long before cases were confirmed there, and we won’t ultimately have records to verify the captain’s belief that he was bringing cases of the viral infection back to the states as far back as December.