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Experts: First known U.S. coronavirus deaths show community spread in CA may have began in mid-January or earlier

Coronavirus

New autopsy results show two Californians died of coronavirus in early and mid-February — up to three weeks before the previously known first US death from the virus.

These deaths now stand as the country’s earliest two attributed to the novel coronavirus, a development that may change the understanding of how early the virus was spreading in the country, health experts told CNN Wednesday.

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

The previously understood first coronavirus death happened on February 29 in Kirkland, Washington.

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

“That is a very significant finding,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday.

“Somebody who died on February 6, they probably contracted that virus early to mid-January. It takes at least two to three weeks from the time you contract the virus and you die from it.”

If they did not contract coronavirus through travel abroad, that also is significant, Jha said.

“That means there was community spread happening in California as early as mid-January, if not earlier than that,” Jha said.

“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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