Health officials in Santa Clara County said Tuesday that at least two people who died in early and mid-February had contracted COVID-19, nearly a month before the first presumed death reported out of Washington state.
The Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner performed autopsies on two individuals who died at home on February 6 and on February 17, 2020 and sent tissue samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Tuesday, the CDC reported that samples from both individuals tested positive for the novel coronavirus. That appears to indicate the virus may have been spreading in the United States far earlier than previously believed.
A third individual was also identified to have died from the virus on March 6 by county health officials.
The first presumed death from COVID-19 was thought to have occurred on Feb. 29 at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington. At least two other deaths that occurred on Feb. 26 were also linked to COVID-19.
"These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC. 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."
The new findings push back the timeline of the U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 by several weeks. Health officials did not say how the two people who died in February contracted the virus.
So far, Santa Clara County has reported at least 88 coronavirus-related deaths, including five deaths reported on Tuesday. At least 1,946 cases have been confirmed there.
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