The first known coronavirus death in the U.S. has been identified as a San Jose woman who grew up in Mountain View. She died on Feb. 6, long before the first previously reported death, raising questions over when local transmission of the virus began.
Santa Clara County public health officials announced Tuesday that recent autopsies revealed three people had died before the presumed first COVID-19 death at El Camino Hospital on March 9. The discoveries were made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) using tissue samples from the deceased.
Though the names of those who died from the virus were not released, family members confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the first person who died on Feb. 6 was 57-year-old Patricia Dowd.
Dowd grew up in Mountain View and attended Saint Francis High School in the 1970s, graduating from San Jose State University before spending 28 years working at the Fremont-based semiconductor company Lam Research.
"She loved reading, scrapbooking, traveling, going to movies, wine tasting and most especially spending quality time with her family and friends," according to her obituary. "She will always be remembered by her beautiful smile and infectious laugh."
Dowd was suffering from flu-like symptoms in January, according to media reports, long before community spread of the new coronavirus had been suspected in Santa Clara County. Cases previously thought to be the first in the county were people who had recently traveled from Wuhan, China, an area considered to be ground zero for the virus.
"What these deaths tell us is that we had community transmission far earlier than our systems allowed us to detect," Santa Clara County Pubic Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a statement. "The virus was likely introduced and circulating in our community earlier than we had known."
Dowd, along with an unidentified 69-year-old man with the illness who died on Feb. 17, did not travel out of the country before contracting the virus. A third death was reported on March 6, and all three individuals died in their homes.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.