first U.S. cornavirus deaths occurred earlier than thought


Two coronavirus-infected people died in Santa Clara County on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17, the medical examiner revealed Tuesday, making them first documented COVID-19 fatalities in the United States.

Until now, the first fatality was believed to have occurred in Kirkland, Wash., on Feb. 29.

Officials previously had said the first Silicon Valley death was March 9. But the Santa Clara County medical examiner revealed Tuesday that people who died Feb. 6, Feb. 17 and March 6 also died of COVID-19.

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“These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. 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,” the county said in a statement. “As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.”

Silicon Valley was an early center of the coronavirus outbreak. So far it has reported nearly 2,000 cases and eight deaths.

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There have been growing concerns that the new coronavirus has been in California longer than experts first believed.

Dr. Jeff Smith, a physician who is the chief executive of Santa Clara County government, said earlier this month that data collected by the CDC, local health departments and others suggest it was “a lot longer than we first believed” — most likely since “back in December.”

“This wasn’t recognized because we were having a severe flu season,” Smith said in an interview. “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.”

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In January and most of February, there was little if any community testing in California.

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