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      Virus struck US in early February

      China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-28 11:11

      A group of people enter Huntington City Beach during the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Huntington Beach, California, US, April 25, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

      NEW YORK-A 57-year-old woman in the United States now believed to be the first known person in the country killed by the novel coronavirus died of a damaged heart caused by her body's struggle to defeat the virus, an autopsy report showed.

      Patricia Dowd, from California's Santa Clara County near San Francisco, died on Feb 6-far earlier than the Feb 29 death in Washington state that officials believed was the first COVID-19 death in the US.

      The autopsy report, posted on Saturday night by the San Francisco Chronicle, shows that her body struggled so hard against the virus that a valve in her heart ruptured, according to a pathologist who reviewed the document.

      Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist who reviewed the autopsy report, said it showed the heart "muscle was infected, that's what caused her heart to rupture".

      "There's an indication the heart was weakened," Melinek said. "The immune system was attacking the virus, and in attacking the virus it damaged the heart and then the heart basically burst."

      The results showed the role the virus played, which was not known at the time of death, and is now considered a crucial missed opportunity in the battle against the virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes.

      Dowd's death, and two others, on Feb 17 and March 6, show the virus was spreading on the West Coast before the first known US case was flagged in late February.

      The number of COVID-19 cases in the US had reached 965,933 by early Monday, and a total of 54,877 deaths related to the disease were recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

      New York remains the hardest-hit state, with over 288,000 cases. New Jersey follows with 109,038 cases. Other states with over 40,000 cases include Massachusetts, Illinois and California.

      'Not from China'

      On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo argued the virus that hit New York state did not come from China but Europe, "probably Italy", he said.

      "Researchers now find, and they report in some newspapers, the virus was spreading wildly in Italy in February and there was an outbreak, massive outbreak in Italy in February," Cuomo said.

      "Researchers now say there were likely 28,000 cases in the US in February, including 10,000 cases in the state of New York and the coronavirus flu virus that came to New York did not come from China. It came from Europe."

      The governor said the US acted two months late after the outbreak. "When you look back, does anyone think the virus was still in China, waiting for us to act, two months later? We all talk about the global economy and how fast people move and how mobile we are. How can you expect that when you act two months after the outbreak in China, the virus was only in China waiting for us to act? The horse had already left the barn by the time we moved."

      Officials in US states and the federal government say they are trying to balance the public health risk posed by the virus with the severe cost of a lengthy shutdown of the country's economy.

      The Congressional Budget Office said the national unemployment rate, which was near a 50-year low before the coronavirus struck, will surge to 16 percent by September as the economy withers under the impact of the outbreak.

      More than 26 million people in the US have applied for unemployment benefits since March.

      The White House unveiled on April 16 a three-phase guideline for reopening economy, putting the onus on governors to make decisions.

      Over a dozen states, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, are moving toward restarting their economies with some restrictions.

      Many others remain hesitant to do so without more robust testing capacity. New York, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Michigan have extended their stay-at-home orders.

      Ai Heping in New York, Xinhua and other agencies contributed to this story.

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