HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA
(Photo : REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo) FILE PHOTO: Employees at Forza Storico attach prepare meals for Emory healthcare workers days before the phased reopening of businesses and restaurants from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. April 21, 2020

New autopsy results show that several individuals who died in their houses in February later examined positive for the new coronavirus. Experts suggested that the first COVID-19 demise in the United States passed off weeks earlier than previously thought. 

HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA
(Photo : REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo)
FILE PHOTO: Employees at Forza Storico attach prepare meals for Emory healthcare workers days before the phased reopening of businesses and restaurants from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. April 21, 2020

In a statement Tuesday, officials said the medical personnel examined a few folks that died in their homes for coronavirus. 

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday, Apr. 21 that the said patients tested positive for coronavirus, basing on the autopsy results. 

These deaths now stand as the country's earliest people related to the new coronavirus. The said development could change the perception of how early the virus was spreading in the country, health professionals told CNN Wednesday.

Two deaths in Northern California's Santa Clara County passed away February 6 and 17, the county said Tuesday in a news release.

The U.S. recorded its first known death from COVID-19 on Feb. 28 - a man in his 50s in Washington state. The new information indicates the country's early demise occurred at least three weeks prior.

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No travel history

Dr. Sara Cody, the county's chief medical officer, told The New York Times the two in California had no known travel histories to China or anywhere else that exposed them to the virus. Cody said the patients are presumed to have caught the virus through community spread, she told the Times.

California confirmed its first coronavirus death on Mar. 4 - an elderly patient in Placer County, near Sacramento. Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose in the Bay Area, recorded its first death case on Mar. 9 - a woman in her 60s.

"[The result] is a very significant finding," Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN's "New Day" on Wednesday. Jha said the patient who died on Feb. 6 was probably contracted that virus early to mid-January.

If the patients did not contract coronavirus through travel abroad, Jha said there was a community spread happening in California since mid-January or earlier than that.

"We really need to now go back, look at a lot more cases from January -- even December -- and try to sort out when did we first really encounter this virus in the United States," Jha said.

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Tissue samples were positive, CDC says

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner obtained autopsies on two of those who died in their houses Feb. 6 and 17. 

CDC, who examined the tissue samples, confirmed that the specimens tested positive for coronavirus. The third death in early March also showed to be virus-related, officials said. Further information on the patients was not provided.

At the time of the deaths, the county stated, mass testing was very limited at that time. The tests were then limited to most people with known travel records and seeking a cure for positive symptoms, and available only through the CDC.

The county stated that as more deaths in the state are investigated, officials said more virus-related mortality is likely.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer of Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, agreed with Jha's statement.

"[Jha's pronouncement] also means that a lot more people have had this, probably asymptomatically or with mild illness, than we thought before," Kraft said on Tuesday.

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