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First US coronavirus death was weeks earlier than previously thought — and in a different state


'This wasn't recognized because we were having a severe flu season'

U.S. Navy Lt. Wade Miller of Orlando, Florida, treats a patient on April 4 aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy. (Ryan M. Breeden/US Navy via Getty Images)

Autopsies revealed that the first COVID-19 deaths in the United States were in California, not Washington state, and the earliest known death from the novel coronavirus was weeks earlier than previously known, the Los Angeles Times reported.

What do we know? The Santa Clara County medical examiner's office announced that two people who had COVID-19 died at home, one on Feb. 9 and one on Feb. 17. Previously, the earliest known coronavirus death was reported as Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington. Another person died March 6 of COVID-19.

Why are we just now finding out? "These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]," a statement from the county said, according to the L.A. Times. "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."

How long has COVID-19 been in the U.S.? These new, earlier coronavirus deaths are more evidence that COVID-19 was possibly spreading in the United States longer than the public was aware.

Santa Clara County executive officer Dr. Jeff Smith said CDC and local data suggests coronavirus was likely in the area back in December.

"This wasn't recognized because we were having a severe flu season," Smith said, the Times reported. "Symptoms are very much like the flu. If you got a mild case of COVID, you didn't really notice. You didn't even go to the doctor. The doctor maybe didn't even do it because they presumed it was the flu."

A recent antibody study in Santa Clara County showed that the actual number of total coronavirus infections in the county may be 50 to 80 times more than the official count.

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