Arapahoe County coroner Dr. Kelly Lear was at home, in jeans and a turtleneck instead of her usual scrubs, handling the administrative tasks that go along with the job since she and her fellow pathologist must stagger days in the office to maintain social distancing.
But she was thinking about a case from early February: The death of a man in his 40s who had been seemingly healthy — with no serious pre-existing medical conditions – before falling ill with a cough a few weeks earlier. When she examined him then in the sterile autopsy room at the coroner’s office, she discovered lungs ravaged by an infection.
More than two months later, Lear was still searching for answers to why the man died.
The forensic pathologist suspected a virus and had ordered tests to prove it. The results came in mid-March. No flu. No other viruses. Nothing pinpointing what attacked his lungs.
“I was basically ready to sign his death certificate as severe lung disease – unknown infection,” she said.
But emerging news of the novel coronavirus got her thinking.
“He showed all the symptoms and had very severe lung disease – and it looked at autopsy like what we are hearing, you know, COVID-19 lungs look like,” Lear said.
A week later, Lear got the results of specimens she sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The man’s test was negative.