George Floyd had tested positive for COVID-19 before his death, full autopsy reveals

Floyd's family gave the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office permission to release the full 20-page report

Published June 4, 2020 12:17PM (EDT)

The memorial for George Floyd (Steel Brooks/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The memorial for George Floyd (Steel Brooks/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

George Floyd had tested positive for COVID-19 before his death, according to a full autopsy released Wednesday.

Floyd's family gave the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office permission to release the full 20-page report to supplement summary findings, which showed that Floyd had a heart attack as he was restrained by authorities. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

Floyd had tested positive for COVID-19 on April 3, which was confirmed by a post-mortem nasal swab. The report says that Floyd was likely asymptomatic, but notes that the new coronavirus can persist in the system for weeks, even after the infection itself has cleared: "the result most likely reflects asymptomatic but persistent . . . positivity from previous infection."

Though medical experts believe people infected with the coronavirus will most likely no longer be contagious after two weeks, there have been documented exceptions. It is still unclear whether people are contagious if they pass the infection but are later "reactivated."

Floyd's lungs appeared healthy, the report says, though the examiner found evidence of coronary artery disease and hypertension.

The coroner also noted that Floyd had "sickle cell trait," an asymptomatic form of the genetic blood disorder sickle cell disease, which can cause anemia and primarily impacts black Americans. Carriers of sickle cell trait "have some protective advantage against malaria," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The toxicology report also shows that Floyd had cannabinoids in his system. The summary report released on Monday said Floyd had recently used fentanyl and methamphetamine, which the full autopsy includes in a footnote as "other significant conditions." However, it does not list those conditions under "cause of death." Fentanyl side effects can include "severe respiratory depression," the report says. 

The Floyd family criticized that summary report, which did not find asphyxiation as a cause of death. An independent autopsy commissioned by the family concluded otherwise, ruling his death a homicide "caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain."

That examination found that sustained pressure from Chauvin's knee on Floyd's carotid artery had "impeded blood flow to the brain," and the weight of the other officers on Floyd's back — combined with the position of his cuffed hands — impaired his diaphragm.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday elevated murder charges against Chauvin from third-degree murder to second-degree murder, which is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. Ellison also charged the three other officers on the scene with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four officers were removed from their positions. 

Floyd's killing sent shockwaves across the country, touching off countless demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice and seizing cities from coast to coast with the most explosive bouts of civil unrest in decades. 

In the nation's capital, law enforcement backed by the National Guard deployed tear gas, pepper bullets and flash-bang grenades on peaceful protesters Monday to clear the way for President Donald Trump to have his picture taken holding a Bible in front of historic St. John's Episcopal Church.

"These officers knew they could act with impunity, given the Minneapolis Police Department's widespread and prolonged pattern and practice of violating people's constitutional rights," the Floyd family said Monday in a statement. "Therefore, we also demand permanent transparent police accountability at all levels and at all times."

The family and their attorney have implored Ellison to further upgrade charges to first-degree murder, which requires evidence that the crime was planned, and in Minnesota carries a life sentence.

"Find constructive and positive ways to keep the focus and pressure on," they added. "Don't let up on your demand for change."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Black Lives Matter Coronavirus Covid-19 George Floyd Minneapolis