Two People in California Died of Coronavirus Weeks Before First Known US Death

The earlier deaths shift understanding of when the virus entered the country

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Autopsy results have revealed two February deaths in California predate what was previously thought to be the first known coronavirus death in the United States, CNN reported.

The deaths occurred in Santa Clara County on February 6 and 17, predating the previously understood first coronavirus death — which happened on February 29 in Kirkland, Washington — by over three weeks. The county announced the findings in a news release on Tuesday after the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner performed autopsies and sent samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the CDC confirmed tested positive for coronavirus.

Neither of the deceased in California had known travel histories to China or anywhere outside the United States that could have resulted in exposure to the virus, suggesting it was contracted through community spread.

This revelation shifts the coronavirus timeline in the United States, backdating its entry into the country by weeks or months. According to Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, someone who died of coronavirus on February 6 likely contracted the virus in early to mid-January.

“That means there was community spread happening in California as early as mid-January, if not earlier than that,” Jha told CNN. “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.”

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