The implications for this? The death toll is very likely under reported. Deaths in early February being described as the "tip of an iceberg" coupled with an early surge in what we thought was a influenza spike, could mean we're off on the numbers by thousands.''
California Finds New Coronavirus Deaths Weeks Earlier Than First Reported In U.S.
A county in California said Tuesday it had identified two people who died from COVID-19 in early- and mid-February, weeks before what was initially reported as the nation’s first coronavirus was found in Washington State. The news may shift the timeline for the virus’ spread in the country earlier that initially believed.
Santa Clara County said Tuesday a medical examiner had performed autopsies on two people who died on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17, both of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.
“These … 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.“
It noted that: “As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.”
Up until now, the first deaths in the United States linked to the coronavirus had been on Feb. 26 in the Seattle area. Washington quickly became a hot spot for cases of COVID-19, tearing through nursing homes and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency on Feb. 29. More than 12,300 people have since been infected with the virus in Washington and 683 have died.
The new fatalities are significant in that they could dramatically extend the amount of time cases of the coronavirus were spreading undetected in parts of the country before social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders were put in place. Cases grew exponentially in the early weeks of the pandemic and more than 825,000 people in the U.S. have now been infected.
Dr. Jeff Smith, a physician and the Santa Clara County Executive, told The Mercury News the results, which were delivered to officials Tuesday, “means the virus has been around for a while.” He told the outlet he believed the cases originated somewhere within the community, building on his comments earlier this month that the virus had most likely been around in the area “a lot longer than we first believed.”
“This wasn’t recognized because we were having a severe flu season,” he told The Los Angeles Times on April 11.
Smith said at the time he thought the virus may have been spreading in the Santa Clara region since December of last year.
The county was one of the first in the nation to announce stay-at-home orders in mid-March, and California has instituted dramatic efforts to stop the spread of the virus statewide. But Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s chief medical officer, told The New York Times the two reported deaths were “probably the tip of an iceberg of unknown size.”
“We had so few pixels you could hardly pick out the image,” she told the outlet on Tuesday. “Suddenly we have many pixels that all of sudden that we didn’t even realize that we were looking for.”