The COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, however, newly uncovered death certificates indicate that the first coronavirus fatalities in the United States started occurring months before that date.
“The first COVID-related deaths in California and across the country occurred in January 2020, weeks earlier than originally thought and before officials knew the virus was circulating here,” Mercury News reported on Sunday based upon coroner documents that were exclusively obtained by The Bay Area News Group.
The agency “discovered evidence of them in provisional coronavirus death counts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS),” states the report.
“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’s deadly path quickly reached far beyond coastal regions that were the country’s early known hotspots,” the agency found.
“But amid privacy concerns and fierce debate over pandemic policies, the names, precise locations, and circumstances behind these deaths have not been publicly revealed,” the report noted. “That is frustrating to some experts.”
These findings suggest that the initial response to the outbreak should have come sooner than in February of 2020 when former President Donald Trump first issued a public health emergency.
“The far-flung nature of the deaths — in the West, Midwest, and South — might suggest that restrictions on travel and social interactions should have been used in more places much earlier — and that such rapid response could be a more critical tool in the next pandemic. In January, when the United States announced it would begin limiting travel from China and other international hotspots, the virus may already have been speeding across state borders,” wrote Mercury News.
“While 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, none of the states would provide further details to reporters from this news organization, citing privacy laws. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services now lists the probable COVID death of a 50-59-year-old woman on Jan. 22, 2020, in its data,” it continued. “Kansas did not respond to a request for comment.”
According to John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert and professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, the discrepancy probably stems from how deaths by unknown or undetermined causes are chronicled.
“These early cases were initially written off as colds or flus,” he told Mercury News.
“Swartzberg thinks — and the new death data suggests — it’s entirely possible that COVID was present in the United States as early as December or even November. The time from infection to death from COVID is typically around three weeks,” the publication added.
“I would certainly guess the virus was introduced on multiple occasions before it was identified as a problem,” Swartzberg said.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.