The origins of the COVID-19 virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2 or Coronavirus, have been widely debated since late 2019 when the virus began to spread across the globe. COVID-19, a flu-like illness with symptoms including shortness of breath, fever, loss of taste and/or smell, and dry cough, took the world by storm due to its highly contagious nature and lack of treatment and prevention during the early stages of the pandemic.
Rumors of its origin spread almost as vastly as the virus itself.
The virus originated in Wuhan, China, with the first cases being reported out of this region. Shortly after the reporting of the first COVID-19 cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic.
One of the first theories of COVID-19’s origin was that the virus was transferred to humans through one of Wuhan’s “wet markets.”
A wet market is a marketplace that sells fresh produce, meat, fish, and other goods in an open air setting. Although popular in China and other Asian countries, wet markets are found across the globe.
They often sell meat from wild animals, which often aren’t treated in humane ways prior to being slaughtered.
According to National Geographic, “Viruses can spread more easily if animals in markets are sick or kept in dirty, cramped conditions, such as in stacked cages.” Spreading of viruses amongst animals kept in harsh conditions allows viruses to “jump to food handlers or customers through exposure to an animal’s bodily fluids.”
Wet markets became globally known in the early stages of the pandemic, and many chalked them up to be the cause of COVID-19 after learning of illnesses easily traveling through animals in these markets.
This theory became widely accepted as the most likely explanation for the origin of the pandemic. However, others began to voice a theory that COVID-19 may have been created inside of a laboratory in China.
This quickly developed into the second theory for the pandemic. Many believed that the virus was created and being studied by scientists, and in the process, transferred to those examining it, causing them to fall ill and spread it to others.
Others took the theory one step further, claiming that the virus was created as a biological weapon from the Chinese government. However, there is no substantive evidence to support this assertion.
Another theory, related to the laboratory theory, claims that COVID-19 was detected by Chinese scientists in animals being studied to observe the effects of the virus.
This theory also agrees that the virus was transferred to humans while being studied, causing the scientists who caught it to transmit it to others, where it continued to spread throughout the world.
This past week, the United States Energy Department concluded that an accidental leak out of a laboratory is the most likely cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that it was not created as a biological weapon and was instead being studied in animals in a lab in Wuhan where it was transmitted to humans.
The Energy Department had previously remained undecided on the emergence of the virus, but has assessed with “low confidence” that the virus spread through an accidental laboratory leak. It hasn’t been confirmed why this conclusion was made with “low confidence.”
A senior political science student shared thoughts on the reporting from the U.S. Energy Department. The student said, “What we saw during the height of this pandemic was an illness that spread like wildfire, more contagious than something many had ever experienced before. I am not shocked that the virus spread to a lab worker studying it, because each day during the pandemic thousands of new cases were being reported. This assessment makes the most sense for how this virus likely originated, and spread to the rest of the population.”
Another junior political science student added, “The recent reporting from the U.S. Energy Department on the origin of COVID-19 makes the most sense as to what I feel happened with this virus. The virus was likely under the radar of scientists in China, who were studying it in labs to try and understand it and figure out how dangerous it could be. By doing so, the virus probably ended up spreading to them, and then eventually everyone else. This theory makes the most sense out of all of the ones that have been debated.”