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(Reuters) – Health officials in California’s Santa Clara County have identified two people who died from the new coronavirus in early and mid-February, making them the earliest known victims of the outbreak in the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian wearing a face mask plays ball with their dog in the parking lot of a closed Victoria Golf Course as authorities encourage social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Carson, California, U.S., April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

It was previously thought that the first U.S. death from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, was a man in his 50s who died in Washington state on Feb. 29.

“The Medical Examiner-Coroner performed autopsies on two individuals who died at home on February 6, 2020 and February 17, 2020”, Santa Clara County Public Health said in a statement bit.ly/2VqjBxa.

“Today, the Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation from the CDC that tissue samples from both cases are positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19)”, the statement added.

The county’s medical examiners also confirmed on Tuesday that another death there early in March was caused by COVID-19.

The victims died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to the statement, which added that additional deaths from the outbreak were expected to be identified.

The testing parameters set at the time by the CDC restricted testing to individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms.

News of the deaths in California could improve public health officials’ understanding of how the outbreak took hold in the United States.

U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 45,000 on Tuesday, doubling in a little over a week and rising by a near-record amount in a single day, according to a Reuters tally reut.rs/2WVPxuE.

The United States has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at more than 810,000, almost four times as many as Spain, the country with the second-highest number. Globally, cases topped 2.5 million on Tuesday.

The new coronavirus is believed to have emerged in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has spread around the world killing nearly 177,000, Reuters calculations show tmsnrt.rs/3cBeEYg.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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