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Newly updated records show Kansas recorded first U.S. COVID-19 death in January 2020

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 7:27 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Newly updated state and federal health records show the first documented COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. came earlier than the thought, with the first happening in Kansas.

The National Center for Health Statistics recently updated its data tables for deaths related to COVID-19, influenza, and pneumonia. It shows one death for the week ending Jan. 11, 2020. The death involved COVID-19 and pneumonia.

At the same time, the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment’s graph of COVID-19 deaths by date of death now shows a single death that happened Jan. 9, 2020. That would make it the first documented COVID-19 death in the U.S.

The NCHS graph shows two more COVID-related deaths happening in the following week, the week ending Jan. 18, 2020. Both also involved COVID-19 and pneumonia. According to the chart, two more were reported the week after that.

Before the updates, Kansas had reported its first COVID-19-related death as happening March 11, 2020. The patient was a man in his 70s who lived at a long-term care facility in Wyandotte Co.

The San Jose Mercury News first reported the January COVID-19 deaths. Until now, the first death was thought to have been a San Jose woman who passed away Feb. 6, 2020.

13 NEWS reached out to KDHE for further information on the January 2020 death. An agency spokesperson said state law prohibits releasing details such as age, gender, county of residence, or whether the person lived a long-term care facility. KDHE said a medical certifier did list COVID-19 as a cause or contributing cause of death on a January 2020 death certificate, but the person was not tested for COVID-19.

“Testing was not widely available at that time and this particular decedent was not tested for COVID-19,” KDHE said in a statement provided to 13 NEWS. “As of right now, this particular death does not change our understanding of when confirmed COVID-19 was introduced into the United States or when it was introduced into Kansas.”

13 NEWS asked KDHE to clarify if testing was done later, or what factored into now listing the case among COVID-related deaths. They have not yet responded.

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