COVID-19 appeared earlier in Wisconsin, elsewhere than previously thought

By: - August 25, 2021 9:11 am
patient in gown showing arm with temp and IV in it

Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash

A Wisconsin woman who died in January 2020 is one of six people across the country whose deaths have been retroactively linked to COVID-19, suggesting the coronavirus turned up in parts of the country earlier than originally believed.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that death certificates in six states “have been quietly amended to list COVID-19 as a contributing factor, suggesting the virus’s deadly path quickly reached beyond coastal regions that were the country’s early known hotspots.”

The added Wisconsin death occurred Jan. 22, 2020, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) database that tracks all known infections and deaths from the coronavirus. The Mercury News reported that the death involved a woman between 50 and 59 years old. 

The Wisconsin Examiner asked DHS officials to comment on the death and its potential significance in understanding the spread of the virus in the state, but the department has not yet made anyone available to discuss it.

In addition to Wisconsin, the other five states with updated information are Alabama, California, Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The National Center for Health Statistics confirmed to the Mercury News that the deaths had been intentionally updated to reflect their link to COVID-19, the newspaper reported, but “what led a coroner or doctor to make such a significant and possibly historic change in these cases is unclear.”

The newly reclassified deaths “would dramatically revise the timeline of COVID’s arrival in the United States,” the Mercury News report stated, quoting researchers who said they believed the virus had been circulating in the U.S. earlier than had been publicly reported previously.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.