Autopsies Now Say California⁠—Not Washington State⁠—Has First Known U.S. Coronavirus Deaths

The medical examiner in Santa Clara, California, confirmed Tuesday that two COVID-19 deaths happened there in early February, becoming the country’s first known coronavirus fatalities⁠—and possibly providing clues about how early the virus was spreading in the U.S.


The Los Angeles Times reported that two people in Santa Clara County infected with coronavirus died ⁠on February 6 and February 17⁠; an additional COVID-19 death was confirmed March 6.

Tissue samples were used to determine the Santa Clara County deaths were from coronavirus, and were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, the New York Times reported.

Prior to Tuesday, the first report of a U.S. COVID-19 fatality was on February 29 in Kirkland, Washington, and officials later determined two people who died in the area February 26 also had the virus.

The two California residents who died in February did not have travel histories that would have exposed them to COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

The newly confirmed deaths suggest COVID-19 was spreading earlier than was previously believed—likely “back in December,” Santa Clara County executive and medical doctor Jeffrey V. Smith told the Los Angeles Times.

“This wasn’t recognized because we were having a severe flu season,” Smith said, adding, “Symptoms are very much like the flu. If you got a mild case of COVID, you didn’t really notice. You didn’t even go to the doctor.”

Crucial quote

“These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the [CDC]. Testing criteria set by the CDC at the time restricted testing to only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms,” said the Santa Clara County medical examiner in a statement. “As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified.”

What we don’t know

Why it took months to confirm the Santa Clara County deaths were caused by COVID-19, the New York Times reported.

Key background

Gene sequencing conducted in Washington State showed that the coronavirus might have been spreading there for weeks, with January 20 being the date for the state’s first confirmed case, according to a March 1, 2020, New York Times report. U.S. officials determined cases in travelers from abroad that same month, but did not confirm community spread of COVID-19 for weeks. Other possible indications that the virus was spreading earlier than was believed include the Grand Princess cruise ship that set sail from San Francisco, California on February 11, with passengers that later displayed symptoms. Researchers also believe that the virus was spreading in New York by the middle of February.

Further reading

Autopsies reveal first confirmed U.S. coronavirus deaths occurred in Bay Area in February (Los Angeles Times)

Coronavirus Death in California Came Weeks Before First Known U.S. Death (New York Times)

Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show (New York Times)

4 More Die From Coronavirus In Washington State, Bringing U.S. Toll To 6 (Forbes)

Another Cruise Ship Is Possibly Linked To Coronavirus⁠—Including California’s First Death (Forbes)

Forbes’ Time Line Of The Coronavirus (Forbes)

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Source: Autopsies Now Say California⁠—Not Washington State⁠—Has First Known U.S. Coronavirus Deaths

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Palantir, The $20 Billion, Peter Thiel-Backed Big Data Giant, Is Providing Coronavirus Monitoring To The CDC

In the last week, staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started logging into a new web app. It promises to help them watch where COVID-19 is spreading and checks how well equipped hospitals are to deal with the spike in cases of the fatal virus, according to two sources familiar with the work. According to those sources, it was built by Palantir, a $20 billion-valued big data company whose data harvesting work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has provoked criticism from human rights groups.

With the CDC project, it’s avoiding any such controversy, partly because it isn’t ingesting personally-identifiable information, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivities of the government contract. Instead, the sources said the tech, based on its big data gathering and analysis technology called Palantir Foundry, takes in a range of anonymized data from U.S. hospitals and healthcare agencies, including lab test results, emergency department statuses, bed capacity and ventilator supply. Palantir is also developing models for the outbreak of the virus to help CDC predict where resources are required, they added.

“In the U.S. we are continuing to work closely with our partners at HHS, including CDC, and across the government agencies to ensure they have the most comprehensive, accurate and timely view of information as the COVID-19 response effort evolves,” a Palantir spokesperson said.

The CDC hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Such tech would give the CDC a clear understanding of what’s happening in any given U.S. geography, whether at state, county or city level, at a single moment in time. The information would help the CDC decide where to allocate resources, such as masks and ventilators, one source said. That could prove vital given the rush to meet a pervasive and urgent need for ventilators, in particular.

Palantir is one of several tech companies, including Google and Oracle, flexing their prowess in data gathering and analysis in efforts to stem the coronavirus. Some ideas, such as using locations from mobile phones to track movements of people, have prompted concerns that once the crisis ebbs, increased surveillance will be hard to unwind. Palantir’s tool does not use any personally-identifiable data at this point, but could do in the future, said one of the sources.

Similar to Palantir’s U.K. work

The app, which CDC staff started to use in the last few days, is hosted by Amazon Web Services as part of a partnership for the CDC project, one of the sources said. Palantir has long used the cloud giant for back-end infrastructure.

The U.S. data gathering app looks a lot like a project revealed in the U.K. last week, where reports indicated Palantir was also providing its Foundry platform, alongside Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, to assist the National Health Service (NHS) in the coronavirus crisis.

Palantir’s Foundry will help the NHS determine current occupancy levels at hospitals, down to the number and type of beds, as well as the capacity of accident and emergency, departments and waiting times, wrote the U.K. government late last week. The tool is also gathering details of the lengths of stay for coronavirus patients, the U.K. project coordinators said.

“Palantir is a data processor, not a data controller, and cannot pass on or use the data for any wider purpose without the permission of NHS England,” it added.

The response to Palantir’s involvement in the U.K. has been cautious in light of its previous surveillance work, notably its production of tools that helped ICE target undocumented immigrants in America. It has close ties to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including the CIA, an investor via the agency’s In-Q-Tel venture fund, and was credited with helping find Osama Bin Laden before his killing. The company was founded by a social theory Ph.D. Alex Karp, a long-time associate of Palantir investor Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who was also an early backer of Facebook.

It’s unclear just how much Palantir will make from the work. According to public records, the most recent contract signed by Palantir with the CDC was in early February for $675,000 for unspecified hardware and software license renewals. Palantir also signed a contract for just $28,000 with the Food and Drug Administration late last month for use of the Palantir Gotham tool, which is typically used to help government agencies find criminals or criminal groups within masses of data.

The app only launched in the last week, though work on the coronavirus project with CDC started two weeks ago, a source with knowledge of the work said. Palantir is also working with Health and Human Services and other federal government customers, they added.

Read More: These Viral Coronavirus Cellphone Maps Send A Powerful Message: But Here’s The Problem

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Source: Palantir, The $20 Billion, Peter Thiel-Backed Big Data Giant, Is Providing Coronavirus Monitoring To The CDC

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Antibody Test For COVID-19 Could Help To Control Virus Spread, Says Singapore Medtech Firm

Singapore’s Biolidics Limited is betting big on its COVID-19 rapid test kits after clearing regulatory hurdles from the health authorities in Singapore, the Philippines and the European Union.

The medtech company, which specializes in cancer treatment equipment and applications, has created a test kit that detects antibodies directed against the coronavirus that’s sweeping the world. Biolidics says the tests have an accuracy rate of 95% based on its clinical trial of 570 samples.

Instead of deep throat or nose swabs that are intrusive and typically require hours or even days before the results are known, Biolidics’ tests use blood samples and a small device that measures antibody response to the virus within 10 minutes.

The company cautions that their rapid test kit results should not be used as the sole basis for diagnosis or for confirmatory testing. The results need to be interpreted together with clinical examination and confirmed with supplemental testing. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Ministry of Health issued a document released to all registered medical practitioners on April 3 stating, “There is currently no role for COVID-19 serology rapid test kits in the diagnosis of COVID-19 infections.”

The Biolidics test checks the blood for antibodies and can identify who was previously infected and may have already developed immunity to the virus. To date, 1.5 million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19, and 88,000 have died from the epidemic.

Shares of Biolidics have risen 29% since announcing it had received provisional authorization from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority on March 30. The following day, the Department of Health in the Philippines authorized the use of the company’s rapid test kit for the detection of COVID-19. The EU gave its approval to market and sell the tests on April 3.

In the context of blood testing for antibodies, “the technologies are not new,” says Jeremy Yee, chairman of Biolidics. “It’s been around since 1961 and used as a tool for [testing] Ebola and other pandemics.” However, the publicly traded firm with a market cap of S$70 million ($49 million) has been quick to gain a leg up as one of the early movers.

The first batch of test kits are “on the plane from China to Singapore as we speak,” says Dr. Wang Qing-Yin, Biolidics chief operating officer and former principal scientist at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases.

Yee estimates commissioning roughly two million COVID-19 test kits in the next two months from Nanjing-based Vazyme Biotech, a Chinese producer of enzymes and antibodies. “In terms of production, we are only essentially limited by our capital,” he says of temporarily reallocating resources meant for its cancer business to fund production costs.

While revenue for Biolidics rose 13.4% to S$1.4 million in 2019 from a year ago mainly driven by its cancer detection systems, the company is still in the red. But Yee expects sales of the new test kits to provide a major boost to earnings this year.

In the meantime, Biolidics is working to gain approval to sell its infectious disease diagnostic kits in other countries in Asia, and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization.

Biolidics is a spin-off of Singapore’s publicly traded Clearbridge Health incorporated in 2009. In December 2018, the cancer diagnostics unit of Clearbridge listed on the SGX Catalist board as Biolidics, raising S$7.7 million representing 11.3% of the company. Clearbridge remains its biggest shareholder with a 24% stake followed by the government statutory board Enterprise Singapore under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, via its Seeds Capital fund holding a 11% stake. The company plans to expand into China and develop innovative diagnostic solutions to lower healthcare costs and improve clinical outcomes.

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Pamela covers entrepreneurs, wealth, blockchain and the crypto economy as a senior reporter across digital and print platforms. Prior to Forbes, she served as on-air foreign correspondent for Thomson Reuters’ broadcast team, during which she reported on global markets, central bank policies, and breaking business news. Before Asia, she was a journalist at NBC Comcast, and started her career at CNBC and Bloomberg as a financial news producer in New York. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Yahoo, USA Today, Huffington Post, and Nasdaq. Pamela’s previous incarnation was on the buy side in M&A research and asset management, inspired by Michael Lewis’ book “Liar’s Poker”. Follow me on Twitter at @pamambler

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Forget China’s ‘Excessive’ Coronavirus Surveillance—This Is America’s Surprising Alternative

Here’s an interesting twist. China has spent years building a vast surveillance state to digitally track its population, a system that has come to the fore in its attempts to monitor and control the spread of coronavirus. For years we have decried this “big brother” monitoring, and yet it turns out that we have a vast surveillance dataset of our own, just waiting for the government to tap into.

Last week, I reported on viral coronavirus maps that use marketing databases to show the movements of Americans as they congregate and disperse, illustrative of the potential spread of coronavirus infections. The granularity of the data shocked many—although the subject matter distracted most from the underlying issue. The data is unique to individuals but claims anonymity—however, last year the New York Times exposed just how easily that veil is broken.

It is therefore a surprise that the U.S. government—through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has elected to use this marketing dataset rather than mobile operator data to track coronavirus. “Officials across the U.S. are using location data from millions of cellphones,” the Wall Street Journal reported on March 28, “to better understand the movements of Americans during the pandemic.” The newspaper says the plan is “to create a portal for federal, state and local officials that contains geolocation data in what could be as many as 500 cities across the U.S.”

When coronavirus first hit China, the country repurposed its surveillance state into a contact tracing and quarantine enforcement machine. The infrastructure was in place. Facial and license plate recognition, contact tracing and phone tracking, proximity reports from public transportation, apps to determine quarantine status and freedom of movement, and social media to inform on rule-breakers. Described as “excessive coronavirus public monitoring,” it is expanding China’s already pervasive use of biometric people tracking technologies.

In the West we have no such biometric-powered surveillance state, whatever campaign groups might say. There is the rule of law, warranted tracking, even campaigns to remove facial recognition from law enforcement. Meanwhile, we all carry smartphones loaded with apps that we give permission to track us, wherever we go and whenever we go there, down to a frightening level of detail.

Smartphone tracking is becoming the front-end for coronavirus population tracking—be that individuals confined to their homes, curfews, contact tracing or aggregated analysis on the impact of social distancing. A smartphone is a proxy for a person. Track the phones and you track the people. Each device can be uniquely tied to its owner, whether in Beijing or Boston, Shanghai or Seattle.

In the U.K. and mainland Europe, governments and the European Union have pulled data from the mobile network operators themselves to track millions of citizens, aggregated and anonymized, monitoring adherence with social distancing and travel restrictions. There was even talk that the GSMA might develop a centralised data program across 700 operators to track users cross-border.

Mobile networks hold significant data on customers. Location pings, call and messaging metadata, obviously the identities behind the numbers and whatever their CRM systems store. This data has its limitations. It is also heavily regulated, protected from prying eyes except under legally warranted circumstances.

There is however an even larger dataset that has no such regulatory limitations. It contains information on all of us—we actually give it permission to collect our locations, our browsing activities, where we go, when, how often. The information can be mined to infer where we work and live, what we like to do and with who. It is the closest we have to a surveillance state—and it’s now everywhere.

The database is fuelled by the apps on our smartphones—apps we give permission to access data they do not need to execute their own functions. And that data can be sold to create a revenue stream for its operators. Last year, one project set out to show just how out of hand this has become. A security researcher tested 937 Android flashlight apps—the most innocuous apps imaginable, of which 180 requested permission to access our contacts and 131 our precise locations.

This marketing data source, which gathers information on all of us, all of the time, is quite the surveillance feat. If any western government set out its intention to build such a platform there would be an extraordinary public backlash. And yet the data is there and can be accessed commercially for just the payment of a fee.

Once the pandemic is behind us, the memory of those maps tracking us coast to coast will remain. And as we look to the east, to its vast government surveillance ecosystem, perhaps we will recall the equivalent we live with ourselves. The fact is that the necessity of the coronavirus pandemic has pushed government invention into new and surprising areas. And from a surveillance stance, one of the most powerful ways imaginable has been there all the time.

It is clear that over the coming weeks we will be asked to further trade personal privacy for public safety. Those datasets can be mined for ever more powerful information—the same contact tracing and quarantine breaches China monitors. According to the WSJ, the mobile ad data “can reveal general levels of compliance with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders—and help measure the pandemic’s economic impact by revealing the drop-off in retail customers at stores, decreases in automobile miles driven and other economic metrics.”

Not bad for a ready-made, off-the-shelf alternative.

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I am the Founder/CEO of Digital Barriers—developing advanced surveillance solutions for defence, national security and counter-terrorism. I write about the intersection of geopolitics and cybersecurity, as well as breaking security and surveillance stories. Contact me at

Source: Forget China’s ‘Excessive’ Coronavirus Surveillance—This Is America’s Surprising Alternative

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