UTAH (ABC4) – We are now learning more about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of researchers, including one from the University of Utah Health, concluded that the earliest cases of COVID-19 in humans arose at a wholesale fish market in Wuhan, China back in December 2019 and not inside a lab.

The U of U Health researcher spoke to ABC4 about those findings which take a closer look at the origin of the infectious disease.

Let’s go back to Dec. 31, 2019, when the Chinese government notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of severe pneumonia with an unknown cause in Wuhan, a city of approximately 11 million people. These researchers, including Dr. Stephen Goldstein, a virologist and postdoctoral researcher at U of U Health, published their findings in a research publication called Science.

These findings show COVID-19 can likely be linked back to roughly 10 stalls at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan. In these stalls, several different animals were sold including rats, porcupines, horses, foxes, dogs and hedgehogs among others. Dr. Goldstein says what has now become COVID was at first only detected within a half-mile radius of the fish market.

The new findings strongly suggest that the virus originated in the market via those live animal sales and slowly spread from there into nearby neighborhoods, then the city and the rest of the country. Dr. Goldstein says this is definitive research and hopes Utahns and people around the world can learn from this and put a better system in place to prevent something similar in the future.

Researchers say things like testing surveillance and the testing of farm animals and farm workers show they might be routinely exposed to these kinds of viruses. Experts say it’s important to try and remove infected animals from the supply chain as best as possible.

Dr. Goldstein says he knows there may be pushback to this research, but emphasizes this went through rigorous peer review. He says it is proven that COVID did not originate from a lab in China — it came from a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan.

Goldstein says two variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were detected at the market. This suggests both variants originated independently in the market and helps confirm the researchers’ hypothesis that the early spread of the infection began there.