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A search for answers in 17-year-old boy’s death that may be linked to coronavirus

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus virus that causes COVID-19
Orinda Care Center, a skilled nursing facility where 27 people tested positive for the virus.
(Maura Dolan / Los Angeles Times)

Officials are trying to determine whether a teenager in Lancaster died of coronavirus and are awaiting the results of more testing.

The boy’s father, an Uber driver, is suspected of having the virus, but it remains unclear how the boy may have contracted it.

Q: What do we know about the boy?

The Lancaster 17-year-old died of septic shock, according to Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. Officials initially had said he died of coronavirus but later said more tests were needed.

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“The juvenile fatality that the Los Angeles County Department Public Health reported earlier today will require further evaluation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” a county statement read. “Though early tests indicated a positive result for COVID-19, the case is complex, and there may be an alternate explanation for this fatality. Patient privacy prevents our offering further details at this time.”

It’s possible the boy had coronavirus but that it was not the cause of death.

Parris said the boy died last week and that his family wasn’t aware of the coronavirus suspicion.

“They had the funeral already. His family has no idea he was the boy in the news,” Parris said. “The family didn’t know about COVID-19. They were shaking hands at the funeral.”

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The father has been trying to get tested but to no avail, the mayor said. “He has just been told to self-quarantine,” Parris said.

The family told Parris the teen was complaining of respiratory distress when he first went to an HMO facility, but officials there declined to treat him. The family does not have health insurance. A few days later, the boy was taken to Antelope Valley Regional Medical Center, he said.

Q: What are the next steps?

The CDC will review his case, and eventually county officials will determine a cause of death.

Q: Does this suggest children are more at risk than we originally believed?

Not necessarily. If confirmed, this appears to be the first death of a teenager from coronavirus in the United States.

But overall, children are less likey to die of COVID-19 than other groups.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week, there had been no coronavirus fatalities in the United States of people under 18. The report also said there had been no reported ICU admissions for people under 19.

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Of the more than 600 cases in L.A. County, only 10 involve people under 17.

One possible reason why babies, toddlers and young children have not been critically threatened is that their immature immune systems may not trigger inflammation severe enough to result in pneumonia, septic shock or organ failure.


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