Accurate understanding of the global spread of emerging viruses is critically important for public health response and for anticipating and preventing future outbreaks. Here, we elucidate when, where and how the earliest sustained SARS-CoV-2 transmission networks became established in Europe and the United States (US). Our results refute prior findings erroneously linking cases in January 2020 with outbreaks that occurred weeks later. Instead, rapid interventions successfully prevented onward transmission of those early cases in Germany and Washington State. Other, later introductions of the virus from China to both Italy and Washington State founded the earliest sustained European and US transmission networks. Our analyses reveal an extended period of missed opportunity when intensive testing and contact tracing could have prevented SARS-CoV-2 from becoming established in the US and Europe. ### Competing Interest Statement JOW has received funding from Gilead Sciences, LLC (completed) and the CDC (ongoing) via grants and contracts to his institution unrelated to this research. MAS receives funding from Janssen Research & Development, IQVIA and Private Health Management via contracts unrelated to this research.
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