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New evidence indicates that COVID-19 hit the state of California at least as far back as early February.
On Tuesday, Santa Clara County Public Health officials announced that an autopsy revealed a patient died of the virus, which originated in China, on February 6, roughly three weeks prior to the first U.S. confirmed COVID-19 death in Washington state on February 29.
The first coronavirus death in Santa Clara County was initially marked on March 9. As of this writing, the county has 88 coronavirus-related deaths with another 1,948 reported cases.
“The Medical Examiner-Coroner performed autopsies on two individuals who died at home on February 6, 2020 and February 17, 2020,” the announcement said. “Samples from the two individuals were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, the Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation from the CDC that tissue samples from both cases are positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). ”
The announcement did not indicate if the patients were elderly or had a pre-existing condition, noting only that “limited testing was available only through the CDC” while anticipating that more COVID-19 deaths will be identified throughout the county that were once previously unconfirmed cases.
“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,” the announcement continued. “As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.”
Speaking with Mercury News, County Executive Jeff Smith said the autopsy proves that the virus has been in California for a while – since as early as January.
“We know there was a person diagnosed in late January with the virus — but to have at least three people right around the beginning of February and late January already have the infection and two of them pass away means the virus has been around for a while,” Smith said.
Furthermore, these cases are believed to have originated in the community.
“It’s a much more dangerous virus than we initially recognized because we had limited testing,” Smith said.
Sara Cody, a public health officer with Santa Clara County, told the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that COVID-19 will see a number of surges for months or even years.
“COVID-19 is something we’re going to be managing for a very long time, months and likely years,” Cody said. “We anticipate this won’t be the only surge, we’ll have other surges that will likely come if we let up too much so we have to be extra careful to develop the information systems to enable us to monitor what we’re doing.”
Though the methodologies were called into question, a recent anti-body test study by Stanford University showed that the coronavirus cases in Santa Clara County were 50 to 85 times higher than officials initially speculated.
“At the time of the study, Santa Clara County had 1,094 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 50 deaths,” reported The Guardian. “But based on the rate of participants who have antibodies, the study estimates it is likely that between 48,000 and 81,000 people had been infected in Santa Clara county by early April.”
“That also means coronavirus is potentially much less deadly to the overall population than initially thought,” it continued. “As of Tuesday, the US’s coronavirus death rate was 4.1% and Stanford researchers said their findings show a death rate of just 0.12% to 0.2%.”
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