Questions surround claim first US COVID-19 death happened in Kansas

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LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The nation’s first COVID-19 death is now officially in Leavenworth County. But key questions surround the new claim that it was the country’s first.

The death happened in January 2020, two months before what was thought to be the state’s first COVID-19 death and before any other recorded death in the nation. But that new Kansas Department of Health and Environment data is causing controversy, even within the department itself.

Some experts say this goes to show what they’ve suspected all along: COVID-19 was here before we really knew what it was. But KDHE said their new data conflicts with all data we have on COVID-19 cases in Kansas and the region at the time.

So here’s what happened. Someone died in Leavenworth County on Jan. 9, 2020. That’s more than two months before the shutdowns and we learned of the state’s first death. Months later, a local medical certifier changed the death certificate to say the person died from COVID-19 based on symptoms. FOX4 is told by KDHE the person who changed the death certificate could have been a physician or a physician’s assistant.

Doctors on the University of Kansas Health System call Wednesday discussed the possibility COVID-19 could have been here in the area and responsible for a death that early.

“I think when we didn’t have a lot of testing and didn’t understand the disease and people probably died from it that we didn’t track because we didn’t just know,” said Dr. Steve Stites with the University of Kansas Health System. “I think it’s becoming clear that COVID was circulating in the U.S. before what we thought.”

Even though KDHE has to publish the data from the Office of Vital Statistics, the agency really doesn’t seem to be buying it. It’s unclear but they point out given the circumstances it’s highly unlikely there was a positive COVID-19 test and they say it would be much more than just an outlier.

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