SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Santa Clara County health officials announced late Tuesday night that the medical examiner’s office and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing has confirmed three county residents died of coronavirus infections in February and early March, the first fatalities traced to the disease in the United States.
Previously, medical officials believed the nation’s first COVID-19 death took place in Washington state on March 9th.
The medical examiner performed autopsies on two individuals who died at home on February 6th and February 17th. Samples from the two individuals were sent to the CDC labs.
Raw Video: Santa Clara County Health Officer remarks on first U.S. coronavirus cases
“Today, the Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation from the CDC that tissue samples from both cases are positive for SARS-CoV-2,” the county said in a press release.
Additionally, the medical examiner has also confirmed that an individual who died in the county on March 6 died of COVID-19. Health officials identified the three as a 57-year-old-woman, a 69-year-old man and a 70-year-old man.
“None had a significant travel history, which signals there was a significant amount of virus circulating in our community in early February,” said Santa Clara County Health Director Dr Sara Cody.
Cody told KPIX 5 that the tissue samples were sent to the CDC because something in the initial death probe “just didn’t seem right.”
These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available.
Cody said health providers in the county were dealing with several different flu strains in January and now it looks like the coronavirus was already present. At the time, Cody said, the only people who had been traveling were being tested for the disease.
“We know that each of these deaths are iceberg tips,” she said “So with 3 of them, that tells us there must have been a significant degree of community transmission.”
As the medical examiner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, health officials anticipate additional early deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.
Santa Clara County reported one of the Bay Area’s first confirmed cases of the illness. Since that time, the county has become the Bay Area’s hot spot during the current outbreak. As of Tuesday, Santa Clara County has had nearly 2,000 confirmed cases and 88 deaths.