Coronavirus Pandemic: Consumer Electronics Show may have contributed to America's COVID-19 crisis

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Little is known about how the novel coronavirus entered the United States. But a new revelation offers insight in to how the virus may have begun to spread at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January. With more than 170,000 attendees, it's one of the largest technology trade fairs in the world, with deep ties to Silicon Valley.

"There's a lot of people sharing the same air, there's a lot of close contact between people, a lot of shaking hands, saying hello, (and) having meals with other people," said Michael Webber, a mechanical engineering professor at UT Austin, who fell ill shortly after attending the conference in Las Vegas.

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Webber believes he may have contracted the novel coronavirus at the conference just as it was beginning to make headlines across America. This past week, he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

"I had a high fever, a lot of chills, sore throat, cough, I had a little trouble breathing, like I couldn't breathe easily at night when I was trying to sleep," said Webber. "It was very uncomfortable... all sorts of body aches and I lost my appetite for food."

The revelation comes as the baseline for the spread of the disease keeps changing. Last week, Santa Clara County health officials announced a death related to COVID-19 from the first week of February. According to data compiled by APM Reports, more than 150 companies from the county set up exhibits at CES.

"Being able to backtrack and piece together how the spread of this virus really took off in this country is really important to figuring out how to get back to normal life and to be prepared if another public health emergency occurs," said Angela Caruso, an investigative reporter with American Public Media.

Infectious disease experts have stressed that we'll never really know how much of an impact CES had in spreading the virus, but say it's one of the early events that may have contributed.

"It's certainly is worth exploring and looking at exactly what were the routes in which people arrived at the conference and what were the routes when they left and do those correlate with subsequent mini-outbreaks of disease around the world," said Dr. David Relman, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Many say this is an opportunity to continue searching for answers during a time of such uncertainty in the world.

"I feel better having a little bit of knowledge about my antibody situation," said Webber. "I think this is a reminder that data can be useful, that the more we know, the better position we are to deal with this."

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