The first known death of COVID-19 in the United States occurred a few weeks earlier than expected

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COVID-19 first known American death occurred on February 6 – almost three weeks before Washington state deaths were originally believed to be the first in the country from coronavirus, officials say from Santa Clara County, California. died at home, and at a time when testing in the United States was tightly limited not only by capacity but by federal criteria.

The person is one of three who died posthumously from COVID-19 in Santa Clara County after the coroner’s medical examiner conducted autopsies and sent samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other two deaths occurred on February 17 and March 6.

“These three people died at home at a time when very limited testing was only available through the CDC,” said the county health department when the results were announced. “The test criteria defined by the CDC at the time limited testing to only people with a known travel history who sought medical attention for specific symptoms. “

Bay Area County, which previously reported its first death from COVID-19 on March 9, says it will likely identify more coronavirus deaths as it investigates.

The revelations about the deaths in early February underscore a point that public health officials often make when talking about a viral epidemic: that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate picture in real time of the real impact of a disease. By the time test results and statistics emerge, experts say, the information is out of date.

At the time of the person’s death on February 6, the first known death outside of China had been reported less than a week earlier in the Philippines. American cases numbered in the tens, not in the thousands.

Two days before Santa Clara’s death, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people to wash their hands and take other precautions to limit the spread of the virus. But the agency also said via Twitter, “CDC does not currently recommend the use of face masks to help prevent new people #coronavirus. # 2019-nCoV does not spread to communities in the United States “- two positions he later reversed as the global impact of the disease increased.

In early February, COVID-19 had not yet been declared a pandemic and had no official name yet; it was still mainly known as the “2019 coronavirus novel”.

In late February, President Trump announced that the first death from the U.S. coronavirus occurred on February 28. Within days, officials in King County, Washington, said two people died of the disease earlier on February 26. that they saw signs of community spread of the virus while people were hospitalized without being exposed to it.

The United States has now confirmed more than 825,000 cases of COVID-19, including 45,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.



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