Are public health officials telling the truth when they state they are seeking information about possible early cases of COVID-19? Similarly, is it possible some members of the “watchdog” press are unwilling to publish any story that presents compelling evidence the novel coronavirus was spreading in America in November or December?
As a freelance reporter who’s been investigating this hypothesis for two months, I’ve come to believe the answer to both questions could be “yes.”
The account below shows how I reached these conclusions and why I came to believe that lessons gleaned from working on a COVID-19 story might be more frightening than the virus itself.
On May 29th, as reported by NBC News, Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, told the country that his agency had found “no indication the (novel corona) virus had been introduced into the U.S … in November or December. We looked for evidence of early widespread transmission and could not confirm it.” He added his team will continue to search for clues of the first cases on U.S. soil (emphasis added).
But if Dr. Butler and his team of infectious disease sleuths were indeed “search(ing) for clues of the first cases on U.S. soil,” they would have been eager to reach out to Tim and Brandie McCain of Sylacauga, Alabama.
As I recount in a story published on June 25th at www.UncoverDC.com, the McCain's experienced virtually every one of the COVID-19 symptoms in December. Tim McCain almost died the first week in January. Of note, both Tim and Brandie McCain tested positive for antibodies in early May. Brandie McCain tested positive for antibodies again on June 24th (her husband has yet to receive a second antibody test).
At least for this journalist, the evidence that both McCain's had COVID-19 in December meets the “beyond-a-reasonable-doubt” standard. And if this couple had COVID-19 in December or November - as did at least 14 other Americans (see below) - COVID-19 was almost certainly circulating in America at least two months before the CDC says it was.
This, I thought, was a big and significant story, one that every news editor would be eager to publish. As it turns out, I’d thought wrong.
More than a month before the article was finally published I began to send my story - or a pitch of the article’s numerous “newsworthy” features - to editors at approximately 25 well-known news organizations. Only four editors replied with a short “we’ll-pass-on-this” message and none asked to see the supporting evidence I offered to provide.
But the 26th try was the charm. Tracy Beanz, the editor of UncoverDC.com, replied almost immediately. Not only would her site publish the story, she was dumbfounded nobody else would.
“Why hasn’t anyone else published this?” Tracy asked me several times. “I don’t know,” I replied. “It’s a head-scratcher, the $64,000 question.” I offered several possible explanations, speculating that perhaps my story didn’t align with the “authorized narrative.”
Perhaps those on the right didn’t like the story because it could call into question the premise that the virus originated in China in late December. (The story is actually mute on this question and certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility the virus may have begun in China earlier than the public was initially told).
Maybe those on the left didn’t like the story because it might provide evidence that the virus “horse” may have been well “out of the barn” by the time governors began to “lock-down” the economy in March, a public policy response clearly endorsed by the left-leaning press.
A third possibility is that the news judgment of “big-time” editors is simply much different than this former small-time newspaper editor. Yet another possibility is that today’s press corps has become increasingly leery of publishing any story that contradicts statements of government authorities or “experts,” a chilling statement about our free and “skeptical” press if true.
One “alternative media” blogger I shared my frustrations with speculated that my story was probably viewed as “conspiracy” fodder by editors at well-known mainstream publications. He’s probably right, although (don’t laugh) I simply view myself as a journalist seeking the truth. Readers could decide for themselves if the evidence presented in my story was convincing or not. That is, I wasn’t seeking to advance any conspiracy theories with this story.
But I might be with this one. A “conspiracy” is simply two or more people “conspiring” to conceal something they don’t want large numbers of people to learn about.
Are at least some officials who receive tax-payer-funded salaries trying to prevent those of us who pay their salaries from knowing that COVID-19 existed in America in December, or probably earlier than this? As of today’s date, I can’t prove this, but I certainly will not be surprised if this is proven to be the case in the future.
Prior to writing my story, I interviewed Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and shared with her many details of the McCain's likely early cases. Dr. Landers said it was “possible” the McCain's had COVID-19. However, citing CDC and WHO data that showed no evidence of community spread in America at the time the McCain's experienced their symptoms, she doubts this is the case.
Fair enough. But didn’t she or other officials at the ADPH at least want to look into the McCain's “possible” case given that this couple would qualify - by at least 2 1/2 months - as Alabama’s first COVID-19 case, and given all the evidence that supported a possible/likely diagnosis?
Dr. Landers replied that the ADPH would “take a look” at details of Mr. McCain’s case if the agency was provided relevant information by either the McCain's or the hospital that treated Tim McCain for 24 days in January.
It’s clear to me that no one at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham ever forwarded such information to the ADPH. I tried several times to get someone at the hospital to talk to me about Tim McCain’s case but was told by the hospital’s spokesperson no one “is interested in being interviewed.”
Brandie McCain also told me that she’d left two messages with Dr. Landers and/or her media liaison at ADPH, requesting that someone from the agency contact her. Weeks after leaving these messages, she has still not been contacted by state health officials, she says.
The day after my story was published, I sent an email to Dr. Landers and the ADPH’s media relations contact. In the email, I provided a link to my article and also included Brandie McCain’s telephone number.
In this email I dispensed with decorum and told Dr. Landers what I really thought:
“The fact you or no other infectious disease experts will even follow up with this family is borderline criminal, perhaps professional malpractice or maybe just incompetence, displaying an utter lack of professional curiosity,” I wrote.
“I hope you read this story and this sidebar closely. If you still shrug your shoulders and dismiss the significance of their case, we need new officials at the ADPH. There is certainly copious and persuasive evidence that this couple may have had the virus. Isn't it your job to investigate people that meet this profile? Brandie is literally begging for some attention from ‘experts.' She and her family are also suffering (likely) long-term effects from this disease, areas that need to be understood and studied. Details of their case can help others."
“I'm sorry this email comes off harsh, but someone needs to reach out to the McCain's and show the world that our state health department understands the implications and significance of these likely positive cases.”
I received no response to this email.
On June 26, I also reached out to the CDC’s media affairs office and included a link to my story. This the July 1 response I received from Jason McDonald, who identified himself as a “member of the media team for CDC’s COVID-19 response.”
“Thank you for sharing the story you wrote. CDC has no access to personally identifiable information of cases or those who had samples tested; meaning, we would have no information for the subject of your story. Such information is never provided to CDC. It is best to reach out to the Alabama health department for information.”
I replied to Mr. McDonald that I had reached out to Alabama’s health department … to no avail.
I again highlighted quotes where Dr. Butler stated there was “no indication the virus had been introduced into the U.S. … in November and December” … and that his “team will continue to search for clues of the first cases on U.S. soil.”
No one from the CDC’s media team replied to my follow-up email.
I’ve also contacted press liaisons with the University of Alabama Birmingham’s Medical Center, which includes a highly-regarded infectious disease department very active in COVID-19 research. Researchers at such an institution might be interested in a likely early case in our own state, I thought.
But I was wrong again.
“Thanks for reaching out,” one of the hospital’s media affairs employees replied. ”I will rely (stet) this to our infectious diseases physicians, but it sounds as if this is a matter for ADPH and the CDC.”
It probably goes without saying that none of the hospital’s infectious disease physicians contacted me (nor the McCain's).
So, to summarize my interactions with hospitals, public health bureaucrats and infectious disease experts: No one from Grandview Medical Center was willing to talk to this reporter, nor (apparently) did the hospital pass along information to public health officials about a patient who very likely had COVID-19 in December.
The CDC is not interested (telling me this was a matter for the ADPH). UAB’s infectious disease experts weren’t interested and referred me to the CDC and ADPH. And the ADPH obviously has no interest in performing even a cursory investigation into the McCain's cases.
So I ask again: Is it possible there is some kind of “conspiracy” on the part of health officials to conceal information that might strongly suggest that the novel coronavirus was spreading in America in December?
While I’m not willing to state this as fact, I am comfortable stating this theory: At least some public health officials and infectious disease experts have no interest in performing serious inquiries into likely early cases - probably because they know such investigations, if legitimate, would almost certainly prove that this virus was indeed spreading in many people much earlier than they’ve publicly acknowledged.
That is, by not investigating the McCain's cases (and other people who fit the same profile), the “official narrative” is protected.
I should note that my article on the McCain's was not the only journalism that identified early COVID-19 patients.
The Seattle Times and Palm Beach Post had previously published stories that identified 13 other people who were sick in November and December who later tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. Surely, I thought, editors at these two papers would be interested in any story that corroborates or supports the theory advanced in their own two articles.
I did receive one reply from Lewis Kamb, the reporter who wrote The Seattle Times story. Mr. Kamb said he was busy covering the George Floyd protests, but he did ask one question: “Did the couple you’re focusing on travel to China prior to their illnesses or have contact with anyone who did? Just curious.”
“No,” I replied.
I kept reaching out, but this was the last I heard from anyone at The Seattle Times or The Palm Beach Post. (In addition to its “contrarian” antibody story, The Palm Beach Post had also broken a story that strongly suggests a government conspiracy to conceal possible early COVID-19 patients in Florida. See story here.)
Hypothetically speaking, if editors were interested in blocking or “censoring” certain stories, they could achieve this goal any number of ways. For example, they could simply refuse to assign reporters stories that would not qualify, in their opinion, as news “fit to print.” They could also not mention or follow-up on stories published by other news outlets.
I did note with interest that only a handful of news outlets picked up the Seattle Times story and no news organization picked up the Palm Beach Post story which stated that 11 people from one “small neighborhood” in Delray Beach, Florida probably had COVID-19 in November and December. Given the example of these case studies, I was not surprised when my UncoverDC piece was also ignored by the national media.
Apparently, I am the only journalist in the country who is keeping a tally of people who had COVID-19 symptoms in November and December and later got antibody tests that “confirmed” a COVID diagnosis. At the time I wrote my story, this figure was 15 such people (and this number does not include the unknown people who transmitted the virus to these individuals).
As it turns out, however, I missed one of the most intriguing cases. Michael Melham, who is the mayor of Belleville, New Jersey, also got sick in late November and has now tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. Readers can watch this 4-minute YouTube video and gauge for themselves if the mayor’s account is convincing. (Since this video was produced, the mayor has tested positive for antibodies a second time).
I contacted Mayor Melham by email and he told me he remains “steadfast” that he had the virus in November. He believes he contracted it at a conference he attended around Nov. 20th in Atlantic City. He also reports that several other people who attended the conference got sick at the same time.
Mayor Melham also told me no public health officials have contacted him to follow-up with his possible diagnosis. He said his case received “huge” amounts of media coverage in China, but very little in this country. (Fox News did run a story with the headline: “China uses New Jersey mayor's claim he had coronavirus in November in propaganda war against US.”)
Considering all of the above, do I believe editorial decisions dealing with potential arrival dates of the novel coronavirus have become politicized? As my daughter might say: Duh.
Do I think public health officials are actively and sincerely investigating possible early cases of COVID-19? Based on my own experiences and research, I do not.
Do I think important news organizations - those that ultimately shape “conventional wisdom” - are willing to report stories that contradict the “authorized narrative?” Generally speaking, I do not.
Does a simple “search for the truth” even matter anymore? For some journalists and for some employees at government agencies, I’m sure it still does. However, the numbers in this group seem to be diminishing by the week.
With my article on the McCain's, I thought I was simply doing a story on one couple who had a disease earlier than this disease was said to have existed. As it turned out, my efforts to get this story published were more illuminating and ended up frightening me more than COVID-19.
When a genuine search for the truth is increasingly viewed as taboo or off-limits, the prognosis for a nation we all want to see survive and prosper is probably bleak.
Bill Rice, Jr. is a freelance writer in Troy, Alabama. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org