California county may have traced earliest US coronavirus deaths

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California officials have discovered what are possibly the earliest known coronavirus deaths in the United States.

Santa Clara County announced Tuesday that three people who died at home during February and March tested positive for COVID-19 during their autopsies. The deaths took place on Feb. 6, Feb. 17 and March 6.

It was previously believed that the first US victim of the virus was a man in Washington state who died on Feb. 29.

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Officials said they sent samples from the February deaths to the CDC for testing and that results came back Tuesday.

FILE - In this March 16, 2020 photo, Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer, speaks during a press conference headed by public health directors spanning six Bay Area counties in San Jose, Calif. On the morning of March 15, as Italy became the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, a half dozen high-ranking California health officials held an emergency conference call to discuss a united effort to contain the spread of the virus in the San Francisco Bay Area. That call and the bold decisions that came in the hours afterward have helped California avoid the kind of devastation from the virus in parts of Europe and New York City. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group via AP, File)

FILE – In this March 16, 2020 photo, Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer, speaks during a press conference headed by public health directors spanning six Bay Area counties in San Jose, Calif. On the morning of March 15, as Italy became the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, a half dozen high-ranking California health officials held an emergency conference call to discuss a united effort to contain the spread of the virus in the San Francisco Bay Area. That call and the bold decisions that came in the hours afterward have helped California avoid the kind of devastation from the virus in parts of Europe and New York City. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group via AP, File)

“These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC,” the county said in a statement.

“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.”

— Santa Clara county statement

“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.”

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Santa Clara officials believe that limited testing has led to an undercount of cases and deaths, a similar phenomenon that has played out in other municipalities and countries, including New York City.

“As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified,” the statement said.

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