A Kansas great-grandmother has become the first official COVID death in the U.S.—but her family had no idea until this week. For a year, the Feb. 6 2020, death of a San Jose woman had been considered the first COVID fatality in the U.S. But, three months ago, a doctor quietly added COVID-19 pneumonia to Lovell “Cookie” Brown’s death certificate as a contributing cause in her Jan. 9, 2020, death. As part of an investigation into unreported early COVID deaths, The Mercury News used Kansas health department data, which lists dates and counties for COVID deaths, to track down Brown’s family. Her daughter, Peaches Foster, finally picked up a copy of the amended death certificate at a courthouse this week and burst into tears.
While Foster had long suspected her mom died of COVID, the news raises more questions than it answers about when, and how, COVID entered the U.S. The Mercury has found five death certificates from January 2020—in California, Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Kansas—that had been recently changed to include COVID as a contributing factor.