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California

A 25-year-old pharmacy tech dies from coronavirus. It’s an urgent warning for young people

Coronavirus testing facility for Coachella Valley
Riverside County medical personnel help each other with personal protection equipment at a drive-though coronavirus testing facility for Coachella Valley residents in Indian Wells.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The death of a 25-year-old California man from the coronavirus infection underscores what medical experts say is a key point: Even young adults can be vulnerable to the virus.

While the older population and frail people are at great risk, officials said the young also need to know they can become sick and even die.

For the record:
11:56 AM, Mar. 30, 2020 An earlier version of this article said a 25-year-old pharmacy technician who died from the coronavirus in Riverside County was found in a La Quinta hotel. The man was found in a residence in the city of La Quinta.

The victim

The man who died was discovered Wednesday in a La Quinta residence in the Coachella Valley, said Brooke Federico, Riverside County’s public information officer. He was a San Diego resident but had not been publicly identified as of Monday.

The pharmacy technician had no known underlying health conditions, officials said. Few other details were provided, including how he contracted the coronavirus.

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“This is a deeply saddening reminder that COVID-19 kills the young and healthy too,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer. “Stay safe. Keep travel and errands to essentials and observe social distance no matter how young or well you are. Our condolences and thoughts are with everyone this pandemic has touched.”

Big picture

Dr. Shawn Evans, an emergency medical physician at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, said last week that he recently saw a 23-year-old stricken with severe complications from the virus. Seeing these situations up close, he said, underlines the notion that being in one’s 20s does not come with immunological superpowers. At least not where COVID-19 is concerned.

For some, he said, it just seems like the virus has the keys to a patient’s entire immune response and age doesn’t seem to matter.

“You do not know what your own immune system is going to do from one month to the next,” Evans said. “Do not chance it. Do not assume that because you’re young, and you feel bulletproof, that you’re not the person that’s going to wind up in the ICU.”

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Dr. Hai Shao, an infectious disease specialist at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, said it’s clear there is additional risk for young people who are carrying extra weight when they are infected.

“We have seen people in their 30s, even 20s, struggling for their lives simply because they are morbidly obese,” Shao said.

Like Evans, he cautioned against the narrative that this disease isn’t so bad for young people.

“The notion that, ‘Oh, younger people can be excluded and they’re usually asymptomatic or mild,’ we know from the experience in China and now from the United States, younger generations, they can get very sick as well.”

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The stats

These are the latest California cases with age ranges among coronavirus patients.

  • Age 0-17: 54
  • Age 18-49: 2,368
  • Age 50-64: 1,184
  • Age 65 and older: 1,016
  • Unknown: 21

This is the breakdown for Los Angeles County:

  • 0-17: 27
  • 18-40: 674
  • 41-65: 676
  • Over 65: 343

A boy’s death

Last week, there was some confusion about the death of a Lancaster teenager and whether he was a victim of COVID-19.

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Initially, officials believed he died from the coronavirus infection. But they soon pulled back, saying more tests were needed to determine the teen’s cause of death.

“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,” L.A. County Public Health said in a statement.

The family told Lancaster Mayor R. Rex 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, Parris said.

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Brown and Winton write for The Times. Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Paul Sisson contributed to this report.


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