A Leavenworth County resident may be the first person on record to die from COVID-19 in the nation, according to data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the CDC.
The medical certifier ruled COVID-19 as the cause on a Jan. 9, 2020, death certificate, KDHE spokesman Matt Lara said.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the first death in the U.S. occurred in the week ending Jan. 11, 2020, which would make Leavenworth County the first known place where someone died from the virus.
The certificate was later amended because the individual’s symptoms were similar to other COVID-19 death symptoms, Lara said. He added that KDHE does not make cause of death determinations and called the determination in the Leavenworth case “an outlier.”
“It conflicts with all of the data we have on COVID cases in Kansas and the region at the time of the individual’s death,” he said.
But KDHE’s recently updated COVID-19 dashboard shows the January death reported in Leavenworth County.
Steve Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, said that illustrates COVID was likely circulating earlier than when cases were officially confirmed.
“When we didn’t have a lot of testing, when we didn’t understand the disease, a lot of people probably died from that that we didn’t track because we just didn’t know,” he said. “I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that COVID was circulating in the United States before what we thought.”
“I think it’s safe to say that COVID-19 was probably in the United States before December and it probably did take lives and I think that overall, the COVID-19 deaths are underreported.”
The first case in the U.S. was reported Jan. 17, 2020, according to the CDC. The first confirmed case in Kansas was reported on March 7, 2020, in Johnson County. The first pandemic death in that Kansas City metro had previously had been reported on March 13, 2020 in Wyandotte County.
As of Wednesday, Kansas has recorded a total of 362,321 total cases including 5,535 deaths.
The Star’s Katie Bernard contributed to this story.