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2 Californians died of coronavirus weeks before previously known 1st US death

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Posted: Apr 22, 2020 5:54 AM
Updated: Apr 22, 2020 7:15 AM


New autopsy results show two Californians died of coronavirus in early and mid-February -- up to three weeks before the previously known first US death from the virus.

These deaths now stand as the country's earliest two attributed to the novel coronavirus, a development that may change the understanding of how early the virus was spreading in the country, health experts told CNN Wednesday.

Two deaths in Northern California's Santa Clara County happened February 6 and 17, the county said Tuesday in a news release.

The previously understood first coronavirus death happened on February 29 in Kirkland, Washington.

The two in California had no known travel histories to China or anywhere else that would have exposed them to the virus, Dr. Sara Cody, the county's chief medical officer, told The New York Times. They are presumed to have caught the virus through community spread, she told the Times.

'That is a very significant finding,' Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN's 'New Day' on Wednesday.

'Somebody who died on February 6, they probably contracted that virus early to mid-January. It takes at least two to three weeks from the time you contract the virus and you die from it.'

If they did not contract coronavirus through travel abroad, that also is significant, Jha said.

'That means there was community spread happening in California as early as mid-January, if not earlier than that,' Jha said.

'We really need to now go back, look at a lot more cases from January -- even December -- and try to sort out when did we first really encounter this virus in the United States,' Jha said.

CDC confirmed Tuesday that tissue samples were positive

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner performed autopsies on two people who died in their homes February 6 and 17 and sent samples to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county said Tuesday.

The CDC confirmed Tuesday that the tissue samples tested positive for coronavirus, the county said.

A third death in early March was also confirmed to be virus-related, the release said.

At the time of the deaths, the county said, testing for the virus was very limited -- generally restricted only to people with a known travel history and seeking treatment for certain symptoms, and available only through the CDC.

Further details on the victims were not provided.

The county said that as more deaths in the county are investigated, it's likely there will be more that are tied to the virus.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer of Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, agreed with Jha about the announcement's significance.

'That also means that a lot more people have had this, probably asymptomatically or with mild illness, than we thought before,' Kraft said Tuesday.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3095814

Reported Deaths: 35549
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles104602114641
San Bernardino2587421561
Riverside2558082739
San Diego2197312222
Orange2178492546
Santa Clara959361158
Kern87240572
Fresno83591968
Sacramento816871128
Alameda69107842
Ventura63413462
San Joaquin58843788
Contra Costa53349460
Stanislaus43392773
Tulare42186515
Monterey36464255
San Mateo33207309
San Francisco29665274
Solano26191108
Santa Barbara25405243
Imperial25380486
Merced24570316
Sonoma24262242
Kings19588148
Placer17584186
San Luis Obispo16056140
Madera13585151
Santa Cruz12461113
Marin11732159
Yolo10852138
Shasta9750123
Butte9582128
El Dorado788649
Sutter782879
Napa773145
Lassen519916
San Benito504246
Yuba499627
Tehama433244
Tuolumne340340
Nevada323874
Mendocino319232
Amador303631
Lake264631
Humboldt245825
Glenn195520
Colusa17969
Calaveras163723
Siskiyou145713
Mono11244
Inyo98329
Del Norte8672
Plumas5895
Modoc3853
Mariposa3464
Trinity3044
Sierra820
Alpine730
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