Satellite images show the coronavirus may have been spreading even earlier than health officials have said, and how much the pandemic dramatically slowed down production at Tesla’s California factory.

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RS Metrics uses satellite images, drones and other aerial photography to help institutional investors track company operations. The company covers a variety of industries, and it’s been measuring hospital traffic for close to 10 years, company president Tom Diamond said in an interview on The Claman Countdown on Wednesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been traced back to a wholesale food market in Wuhan, China, where symptoms of the then-unidentified illness were reported in December, according to the World Health Organization.

However, Diamond said his company’s analysis of satellite images showed a notable rise in hospital traffic in Wuhan as early as October 2019 when compared to the previous October.

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RS Metrics’ satellite analysis found a rise in traffic at hospitals in Wuhan, China as early as October 2019 which the company said showed the coronavirus may have been spreading earlier than known before. (RS Metrics)

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“It looks like it did start a little earlier than people thought,” he said.

There’s typically a rise in traffic before a health crisis is identified, whether it’s a virus or another issue, according to Diamond.

“Even in the U.S., where there’s a lot of data and sharing of info, there’s still a delay before hospital traffic fills up and people realize that there’s some kind of a health issue,” he said.

Diamond shared satellite photos from two hospitals in Maricopa County, Arizona. He said they showed how there was a new outbreak locally around the end of May and early June. Vehicle traffic at the hospitals increased by about 20 percent from April to June.

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Satellite images also showed a rise in hospital traffic attributed to COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County, Arizona from April to June. (RS Metrics)

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“When you start to see 20 hospitals around you all showing 15-20 percent growth, then it’s an obvious trend,” Diamond said.

RS Metrics’ analysis also shows how traffic dropped at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory, which was the object of CEO Elon Musk’s public feud with local health officials that saw him threaten to move the company out of the state as social distancing orders forced employees to stay home.

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Diamond said RS tracked traffic at the factory a lot in its early days as investors questioned the demand for Tesla’s electric vehicles and its ability to produce. However, interest in the site slowed since last year, when the company reported figures that beat analysts’ expectations – until COVID-19 slowed the economy.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that registrations of newly purchased Tesla vehicles “plunged” in California amid the pandemic.

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Satellite images show a drop in both employee cars and newly-produced vehicles at Tesla’s Fremont factory during the coronavirus pandemic closure. (RS Metrics)

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Satellite images showed about 3,700 employee cars and 779 new cars ready to go before the pandemic hit the United States. By April, there were just 480 employee cars and 159 new Teslas parked at the factory, according to Diamond.

“You can imagine Elon Musk seeing his factory drop down like this after working so hard, and that explains some of the frustration,” he said.

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