A 17-year-old boy thought to be the youngest victim of the coronavirus in the United States may not have died from the disease.
In a reversal, Los Angeles County said it will not count the Lancaster boy among the county’s victims until they rule out other causes of death, the Associated Press reported Wednesday, according to a local ABC affiliate. The county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, said that she is calling for a federal investigation of the death by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Each loss we experience in LA County is tragic, and we are sending our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones who’ve had to endure this tragedy,” Ferrer said, according to Fox News. “COVID-19 does not discriminate by age, race, or income level, and what we are seeing in places like New York is indicative of what we should prepare to experience here.”
A shocking reversal
The boy’s death was announced Tuesday as among three new coronavirus-related fatalities in the county. Authorities had pointed to his death as a warning for those who think that young people are safe from the virus, but public health officials later walked back their initial determination about his 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,” health officials said, according to Fox.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said Tuesday that the boy died from septic shock and that he had no pre-existing health conditions, the AP reported. He also expressed outrage that the boy was not tested for COVID-19 when he first went to the hospital with respiratory distress, according to The New York Times. The boy died at a second hospital.
According to the Times, it was not clear that the boy had the virus until he was already dead. Parris, for his part, said that he does think the boy died from the coronavirus and that the boy’s father, who drives for Uber, also has the virus.
“I’m really upset right now,” the boy’s father, who is 68, told the Times. “I thought this was a disease that affected people my age. Now I realize our kids are at risk — that’s something totally different.”
The 17-year-old would be the first minor in the U.S. to die from the coronavirus, if confirmed.
Kids at risk?
Authorities in various states and localities have warned the public to take the coronavirus, and “social distancing” guidelines to combat the pandemic, seriously. But there have been complaints from officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) about getting young people to follow the guidelines, TIME magazine reports.
While it has routinely been said that the disease poses the greatest risk to older individuals and those with underlying health issues, the risk to various age groups is unclear. Some 40% of hospitalized coronavirus patients are between the ages of 20 and 54, according to The New York Times. The CDC has found that 3% of all hospitalizations were of people 19 and under, the AP reported.
As of 12 p.m. Thursday, Los Angeles County had roughly 1,200 cases and 21 deaths, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. A Johns Hopkins University tracker showed that the U.S. has over 80,000 cases overall and more than 1,200 deaths.