Shortly before the inauguration in January, President Biden gave a speech in which he mentioned Patricia Dowd, the 57-year-old woman from San Jose who was found to be the first confirmed U.S. death from COVID-19 last February. Now, a week after the anniversary of her death, her daughter is speaking out.
"On Feb. 6, 2020, Patricia Dowd took her last breath at home, under the California sun of Santa Clara," Biden said in his January 14 address, in which he introduced his recovery plan. "She was 57 years old. A beloved wife, mother, daughter and sister. She never knew she had the virus, at a time when most folks never even heard about the virus. But just like that, she was gone."
He went on to speak of the 400,000 who died since then — over 480,000 as of today — and the "countless families and friends left behind, with unrelenting grief and guilt, anger and frustration."
NBC Bay Area spoke to Dowd's only child, Kaila Dowd, this week, and she said that it remains a mystery how her mother contracted the coronavirus.
"She did get sick, and complained about body aches, but that was it," Kaila Dowd said.
She found her mother dead at home on February 6 in what the coroner initially ruled to be a heart attack. But the death was so unexpected and sudden that the family requested an autopsy, and that is how, in mid-April, they learned that Patricia Dowd had died of COVID-complications. The medical examiner found that Dowd's heart had ruptured — a result of her immune system damaging the heart as it tried to fight the virus.
As SFist reported at the time, the county medical examiner and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health were continuing to do posthumous investigations to see if there were other cases of COVID that had gone undetected — and no doubt there had to have been. But a full year later, Dowd's case remains the first known U.S. death, having occurred well over a month before the Bay Area began issuing its first stay-at-home orders when just a few dozen cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed here.
Some experts have suggested that the unusually bad flu season that was seen with an uptick in hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses in December 2019, which were attributed to the flu, could perhaps have included COVID cases without doctors realizing it. It remains unclear when, exactly, the coronavirus began circulating in the U.S. before bona fide outbreaks began being seen in New York, Washington, and elsewhere.
As Kaila Dowd tells NBC Bay Area, "They said she was the first person, and I was like, ‘I don’t think she was. Someone had it before her.’ This can’t be happening to my family."
Patricia Dowd worked as a manager at a Fremont-based semiconductor company called Lam Research, and she was known to travel for work — but her family didn't indicate that she had done any traveling in the days or weeks before feeling ill. Her daughter said she first mentioned feeling ill on Super Bowl Sunday, which was February 2 last year, four days before she died.
Family and friends marked the one-year anniversary of her death with a socially distanced ceremony on a Santa Cruz beach, Kaila says.
And Kaila Dowd says that she was very grateful that Biden mentioned her mother's name, and she has a letter that she plans to send to the president.
"The second I heard him say her name I just burst into tears,” Kaila tells NBC Bay Area. “It was just amazing he even took the time to say her name.”
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