Why Steve Wozniak thought he was US coronavirus patient zero

Woz feared he or his wife could have been the first to bring the virus back to the US.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
3 min read

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak


Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak  said he and his wife Janet "may have both been patient zero" for the spread of the novel coronavirus in the US. On Monday, Woz tweeted the couple had returned from China on Jan. 4. "Checking out Janet's bad cough" at West Coast Sports Institute, a clinic in Santa Clara, California, he said in a tweet.

But Janet Wozniak reportedly emailed USA Today at around 1:30 p.m. PT to say doctors told her she has just a sinus infection.

Woz told CNET in an email that he and his wife returned from Southeast Asia on Jan. 4, with both suffering from a sore throat and coughing. He says he notified the CDC, which sent him "a boilerplate response" about washing his hands. He added it can't be ruled out, because the CDC won't test them now due to being past the time period considered for coronavirus symptoms.

He called the symptoms "the worst flu of our lives," and said they were told by a hospital earlier this year that it was not an American flu.

Janet and I had a bad sore throat and cough, when we returned from SE Asia (Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong) on January 4. We immediately drove part way to Vegas that night and I emailed people in Las Vegas where I was scheduled for about 5 or 6 events, telling them it should be no go and I was sure I was sick. There was no coronavirus news or travel restrictions yet. I did make a couple of appearances in Vegas but I couldn't speak except nearly with laryngitis. We cancelled everything else to head home but I couldn't move out of bed for 2 days. I did tell everyone that I was sick and stayed away from almost all in Vegas.

This was the worst flu of our lives. Because we had GI symptoms, it may have been some other virulent flu. Janet was coughing up blood and went to the hospital and they said it was no American flu. We have not been able to get tested in this country. Had our return from SE Asia been today, we'd certainly have been tested and quarantined, with the symptoms we had. But it wasn't treated as important back then. I did notify the CDC early but they just came back with a boilerplate letter saying to wash our hands. There as no test for this COVID-19 then. Eventually, they did have a test but you could only get it done through the CDC and they wouldn't test people like myself and Janet, who were well past symptoms.

"Patient zero" was kind of a joke. I think that our GI symptoms would fit some other flu, because you rarely hear of that with COVID-19. But there's no way to ruse us out.

The CDC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

There have now been six deaths, all in Washington state, confirmed in the US due to the coronavirus. The virus has also spread in Santa Clara, where there are nine cases. Wozniak lives in Los Gatos, California.

The novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, causes an illness exhibiting pneumonia-like symptoms. It was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31 after originating in Wuhan, China, and spreading to Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, the UK, Africa and the Middle EastChinese scientists have linked the disease to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include the deadly SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. 

The novel coronavirus causes a disease called COVID-19.  Deaths from the disease now top 3,000 and over 90,000 have been infected.

Originally published March 2, 1:12 p.m. PT.
Update, 2:06 p.m.: Adds reporting from USA Today about Janet Wozniak's sinus infection; 5:17 p.m.: Adds Wozniak's email.

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