Estimating the Real Number of COVID-19 Cases in Wuhan

One hospital was built in Wuhan within eight days to house a thousand patients when case numbers were less than 500 © China Daily

Inconsistent Numbers

On January 23rd, 2020, the city of Wuhan was placed under strict lockdown at the time when there were only 193 cases confirmed within the city of 11 million. And this lockdown occurred at the same time as two brand new hospitals were under construction on the outskirts of the city to support an additional 2,000 patients and finished within ten days. There were seven hospitals prior to these two new one’s being constructed. Because of limited data on how many hospital beds were in use for covid patients during the outbreak it could be anywhere from 250 patients to 500 per hospital (1,750 to 3,500). The only explanation for the addition of two new hospitals is a severe undercount in case numbers.

Comparison of King and Snohomish Counties, Washington and Wuhan, China

It’s important to compare this to another place where numbers are more accurate. The first official case in Washington state occurred on January 17th and it wasn’t until February 24th (36 days later) when cases started going up and up. This first cluster occurred in King and Snohomish counties which combined have a population density of around 666 people per square mile. Wuhan with a city of 11 million people has a population density of 3,279 people per square mile. Given this and a strong link between population density and coronavirus we will select November 20th as the starting point for the first case. With a population density five times greater than the Seattle area, it would have taken about a week or less before case numbers gradually increased before exploding exponentially.

Birds eye view of Huanan market in Wuhan during the lockdown © Frontline 2021


Although it remains unclear if the Huanan Seafood Market is the origin point, it is likely that the area between the market and Hankou Train Station is where the first super spreader event occurred. The area within the vicinity of the market was filled with hotels, restaurants, shops, grocery stores, and banks making it an ideal place to spread quickly. That combined with an open live animal market makes this place an ideal spot for a novel coronavirus to spread quickly to large groups of people.

Initial Outbreak (Nov 20th — Dec 11th)

By December 11th as many as 200 people were likely infected with the coronavirus, many walking around with mild to no symptoms evading detection. @ACBC89

The Outbreak Spreads (Dec 11th — Dec 30th)

According to estimates from Northeastern University case numbers shot up to 4,000 by December 30th. An increase of 1,900% since December 11th. @ACBC89

Dec 30th, 2019 — Jan 6th, 2020

By January 8th over 6,000 people were infected with the Coronavirus.



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