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First U.S. COVID-19 death came weeks earlier than previously thought

Source: Science and Technology Daily| 2021-08-25 11:03:55| Author: Staff Reporters

Emergency personnel transfer a COVID-19 patient in New York. (PHOTO: XINHUA)

The newly-released U.S. death records by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the first deaths related to COVID-19 in the country dated back to January 2020, weeks earlier than previously thought.

According to data released by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), there were six COVID-related deaths in the U.S. before its first known death case on February 6, 2020. The first COVID-related death took place during the week of January 5 to January 11, 2020, and another five from January 12 to February 1.

"The existence of January 2020 deaths would dramatically revise the timeline of COVID's arrival in the United States," said U.S. newspaper The Mercury News.

"A half dozen death certificates from that month in six different states – California, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin – have been quietly amended to list COVID-19 as a contributing factor, suggesting the virus' deadly path quickly reached far beyond coastal regions that were the country's early known hotspots," The Mercury News reported.

The states of California, Georgia, Alabama and Oklahoma "acknowledged or didn't dispute that a death certificate in their states from January 2020 had been changed to include COVID-19," but none of them would provide further details, citing privacy laws.

It's likely that these earlier cases were initially written off as colds or flus, The Mercury News said, citing Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert and professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.

Noting that states like Alabama and Oklahoma don't generally see a lot of travel to and from China, Swartzberg said the new death data suggests it's "entirely possible" that the novel coronavirus was present in the U.S. "as early as December or even November," as it takes about three weeks for a person to get infected and die from COVID-19.

Matthew Memoli, director of the clinical studies unit at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, agrees with what Swartzberg considered.

"I always thought it had to have been here in the U.S. well before we identified it as a big problem," said Memoli, whose team is studying thousands of people across the country and their research suggests that by July 2020, there were about five unidentified cases for every known case and possibly more.

Editor:ZHONG Jianli

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