America's First COVID-19 Death Details Revealed

A San Jose, California woman is now believed to be the first U.S. death from the novel coronavirus, according to new autopsy results. Patricia Dowd, 57, died on Feb. 6, more than two weeks before a death in Washington on Feb. 29 was considered the first coronavirus-related death in the U.S. Santa Clara County also revealed a 67-year-old man died from the coronavirus on Feb. 17.

The two deaths have led officials to believe the coronavirus could have been spreading in the Northern California county as early as January, reports KGO-TV. "What these deaths tell us is that we had community translation probably to a significant degree far earlier than we had known," Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County chief health officer, told KGO. "When you have an outcome like death or ICU, that means that there's some iceberg of cases of unknown size that underlie those iceberg tips."

The two cases are unrelated and neither person had traveled to China or anywhere they could have been exposed to the virus. Dowd's family said she was in good health and not taking any medications. She worked at Lam Research and often traveled to Europe, her family said. Her brother said she was scheduled to attend a funeral in Stockton, California before she suddenly got sick. At the time of her death, it was not thought to be connected to COVID-19. Her brother, Rick Cabello, told CNN her family believed the cause of death was a heart attack.

"She was an athlete in her high school days, she was always active," Cabello said Wednesday, adding that Dowd's death was a shock to the family. He said she told her family she "wasn't feeling well, which was very unusual for her" when she had to cancel the trip to Stockton. Her symptoms were improving and she started working from home. She was speaking with a colleague at work as late as 8 a.m. the day of her death.

"Where did this come from if it wasn't her traveling?" Dowd's brother-in-law Jeff Macias told the Los Angeles Times. "Patricia may not be the first. It's just the earliest we have found so far... Let's keep looking so we know the extent of it --that’s the greater good, for everyone else and my family included."

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"The process of an autopsy is a lengthy process... it's sort of like an iterative investigation," Cody explained to KGO. "The pathologist performing an autopsy might have some findings that they can't quite explain, and then go back and get further testing, and then begin filling in the picture if there's something they still can't explain, then they would go back and get other tests."

The county medical examiner's office sent samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in mid-March to be tested for COVID-19 after the federal requirements for a test expanded. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is encouraging coroners throughout the state to look back at cases as far back as December to get a better understanding of the coronavirus' spread. "We are doing the same across the state and other counties as well, to ultimately guide a deeper understanding of when this pandemic really started to impact Californians directly," he explained.