Two Californians from Santa Clara County died of the novel coronavirus some weeks to a week before the first known victims were actually reported in the United States, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
According to the New York Times, autopsies of the two Santa Clara County residents who died in their homes on February 6 and February 17, confirmed that they were infected with the deadly virus. This would place the latest of the two deaths more than 10 days before the first known coronavirus-related death was reported in the Seattle area on February 29. Officials later reported that two people who died February 26 had also been infected.
“Each one of those deaths is probably the tip of an iceberg of unknown size,” Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s chief medical officer told The Times. “It feels quite significant.”
It is currently presumed that the two Californians who died were infected via community spread as they had no known travel histories, according to Dr. Cody. This also suggests that the virus could have been spreading in California much earlier than previously believed.
“It was probably around unrecognized for quite some time,” Dr. Jeffrey V. Smith, the Santa Clara County executive added.
This also re-emphasizes the issues that the United States has faced due to a lack of widespread testing and with the restrictions on who could be tested.
“We had to ask the CDC every single time: Does this person meet the case definition? May we send a sample?” Dr. Cody said. “We had this very, very uncomfortable feeling that we were hearing about a lot of patients who really felt that they were cases but we couldn’t test.”
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