Autopsy results confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the first American to die of the novel coronavirus illness (COVID-19) currently plaguing the globe perished on February 6, weeks earlier than initially believed, health officials in California’s Santa Clara County revealed on Tuesday.
Dr. Sara Cody, a public health officer in Santa Clara County declared, according to the San Francisco Chronicle:
What it means is we had coronavirus circulating in the community much earlier than we had documented and much earlier than we had thought. Those deaths probably represent many, many more infections. And so there had to be chains of transmission that go back much earlier.
Several studies have indicated that the coronavirus outbreak is far more widespread than previously thought but less deadly than initially predicted, with some researchers saying the mortality rate may be similar to the average death rate from the seasonal flu (0.1 percent).
Before the CDC confirmed revelations by Santa Clara County officials that two people died of COVID-19 at home on February 6 and 17, health officials believed the first American death from the virus had taken place on February 29 in Kirkland, Washington. CDC officials had detected what they believed to be the first positive coronavirus case in the United States on January 21 in a man who had traveled from China to Seattle on January 15.
While Dr. Cody did not identify the people who died in February, she reportedly indicated that the fatalities “tell us we had community transmission – probably significant community transmission – far before we realized it and documented it.”
“From what we understand, neither of the cases had a history of travel,” Cody added. “So we assume that they were acquired locally.”
Given that people typically succumb to the novel coronavirus a month after they are infected, the person who died on February 6 may have contracted the virus in early January, when officials believed the disease was only present in China.
At the time, the CDC had not issued any advisories to Americans about the prospective threat.
On Tuesday, the Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner issued a statement announcing that autopsies on the two people who perished in early and mid-February revealed they had contracted the virus.
That same day, the CDC reportedly confirmed that tissue samples submitted by county officials tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday, Santa Clara County officials announced a total of three previously unidentified coronavirus deaths: the cases on February 6 and 17 and one on March 6.
Both cases in February predate the death that health officials believed to be the first fatality.
Initially, health officials had reported the first death in Santa Clara County on March 9.
Santa Clara County officials declared in the statement issued Tuesday:
[The] three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC. Testing criteria set by the CDC at the time restricted testing to only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms. As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.
The recent revelations came after California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised a “deep dive” update Wednesday of the state’s ability to test for the coronavirus and to track and isolate people who have it.
Gov. Newsom said that testing and isolating infected people is key to lifting a lockdown order believed to have slowed the spread of the disease while forcing millions of people to file for unemployment benefits, the Associated Press (AP) noted.
Last weekend, the state issued new guidelines to screen asymptomatic people in “congregate living facilities,” such as homeless shelters.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the coronavirus had infected over 830,780 and killed more than 45,600 in the United States alone, the Johns Hopkins University tracker revealed. The university also noted that the U.S. had conducted over 4.1 million tests.