Lifestyle Health CDC Confirms 2 Californians Died of COVID-19 Weeks Before First Reported Death in Washington The two deaths point to community spread of the virus in California earlier than previously thought By Claudia Harmata Published on April 22, 2020 12:52 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Mikhail TereshchenkoTASS via Getty A new autopsy report reveals that two people in California died of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in early February, nearly three weeks before the previously presumed first reported death from the disease in Washington state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner said they received confirmation from the CDC on Tuesday after sending the agency tissue samples to test for the virus. According to health officials, the two people died at home on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 in Santa Clara County. Neither had any known travel histories to China or anywhere else that would have exposed them to the virus, Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s chief medical officer, told The New York Times. Prior to this revelation, the first known reported death from COVID-19 in the United State was on Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington. U.S. Has Over 40K Coronavirus-Related Deaths, Most Worldwide: Here’s an Updated Map of the Spread Medical workers prepare to help coronavirus patient in busy hospital. Win McNamee/Getty “Each one of those deaths is probably the tip of an iceberg of unknown size,” Cody told the Times. “It feels quite significant. [The virus] was probably around unrecognized for quite some time.” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, agreed with Cody while speaking to CNN on Wednesday, saying that this new information could change our understanding of the virus’s spread throughout the country. “That is a very significant finding,” Jha said. “Somebody who died on February 6, they probably contracted that virus early to mid-January. It takes at least two to three weeks from the time you contract the virus and you die from it.” Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories He also commented on the significance of the two deaths being unrelated to travel exposure. “That means there was community spread happening in California as early as mid-January, if not earlier than that,” Jha added. “We really need to now go back, look at a lot more cases from January — even December — and try to sort out when did we first really encounter this virus in the United States.” According to a press release from the Santa Clara County public health department, there was also a third death related to COVID-19 in the county in early March. RELATED VIDEO: Nurse Shares Photos From the COVID-19 Pandemic Frontline: We Have Become ‘Closer Than Ever’ “These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC,” the statement reads. “Testing criteria set by the CDC at the time restricted testing to only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms.” The department said that as they continue to investigate other deaths throughout the county, they expect to identify additional people who died from the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak. Over the weekend, the California Department of Public Health set in place new testing guidance that now allows testing for people in high-risk settings — such as hospitals, jails and homeless shelters — even if they do not have symptoms, Time reported. As of Wednesday, April 22, California accounts for 35,845 cases of the virus in the U.S. and at least 1,316 Californians have died. As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.