KU Doc: COVID-19 cases probably present in late 2019

Posted at 2:24 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 15:24:12-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — News earlier this week of the first COVID-19 death tracked by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Centers for Disease Control, likely shows the virus was circulating long before it made headlines.

According to data from KDHE, the first COVID-19 death in the state was recorded on Jan. 9, 2020. Data from the CDC shows the agency’s first COVID-19-related death across the country coming in that same week ending Jan. 11, 2020.

During Wednesday’s coronavirus daily briefing, University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites said the deaths point to the virus being in circulation earlier than previously reported.

“It’s safe to say that COVID-19 was probably in the United States before December (2019) and it probably did take lives,” Stites said during Wednesday’s briefing. “I think it’s become increasingly clear COVID was circulating in the United States before what we thought.”

Stites cited a lack of early testing and overall awareness of the disease that led to hospitals being unable to track cases and deaths.

“A lot of people probably died from that we didn’t track because we just didn’t know,” he said.

Stites compared the inability of health care systems to track COVID-19 early in the pandemic to the inability of doctors to track HIV in the early 1980s.

“There were a lot of HIV deaths that didn’t get covered because we couldn’t diagnose it or we didn’t want to diagnose it and we didn’t have all the testing available for it,” he said. “I suspect the same will be true for COVID-19.”