Details about the case we just learned about Wednesday, a posthumously tested San Jose woman who appears now to be the very first death from COVID-19 in the United States, are now coming in. And her family says she only reported a few days of flu-like symptoms, and then suddenly dropped dead of what they assumed was a heart attack.
The 57-year-old woman has now been identified publicly as Patricia Dowd, an otherwise active and healthy woman who worked as a manager at a semiconductor company called Lam Research, which is headquartered in Fremont. Dowd had no significant pre-existing conditions that her family knew of, and the circumstances of her death — at home, and without any apparent severe symptoms from the coronavirus — were decidedly odd and unexpected.
As the Los Angeles Times reports today, Dowd told family members that she was feeling unwell in late January, and she was unable to attend a funeral. But she had apparently improved and was working from home on the morning of February 6, emailing with a colleague just hours before her daughter found her dead.
Dowd was a frequent traveler for work, and reportedly had plans to go to China later this year, however it's not clear if she had been anywhere else in the state in the days or weeks before she felt sick. As Vice reports, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health is still investigating Dowd's whereabouts to determine where she might have been exposed to the virus in January.
County health officer Dr. Sara Cody continues to say that Dowd's case, along with two others that the county medical examiner has posthumously tested and found to be previously undetected COVID-19 cases, were cases of community transmission. But other experts have said that this is less likely than a traceable contact with someone who had been in China — and that these cases likely represented clusters that failed to take off.
Jeff Macias, Dowd's brother-in-law, seemed uncertain about her whereabouts in January, telling the LA Times, "Where did this come from if it wasn’t her traveling?"
Dowd's only daughter, the one who found her unresponsive on February 6, had just graduated college according to family members. And older brother Rick Cabello tells CNN that her death was particularly shocking because she had maintained a healthy lifestyle, never smoked, and was not on any type of medication at the time of her death.
What does seem clear is that more cases like this — perhaps in Washington State or elsewhere in California — are likely to emerge.