New records show U.S. COVID-19 deaths up to 3 weeks earlier than first reported

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Two people with the coronavirus died in California as much as three weeks before the U.S. reported its first death from the disease in late February — a gap that a top health official said Wednesday may have led to delays in issuing stay-at-home orders in the nation’s most populous state.

Dr. Sara Cody, health director in Northern California’s Santa Clara County, said the deaths were missed because of a scarcity of testing and the federal government’s limited guidance on who should be tested.

The infections in the two patients were confirmed by way of autopsy tissue samples that were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for analysis. The county coroner’s office received the results on Tuesday, officials said.

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“If we had had widespread testing earlier and we were able to document the level of transmission in the county, if we had understood then people were already dying, yes, we probably would have acted earlier than we did, which would have meant more time at home,” Cody said.

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In the wake of the disclosure, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he has directed coroners throughout the state to take another look at deaths as far back as December to help establish more clearly when the epidemic took hold in California.

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