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COVID-19 no longer confirmed in fatality of teen boy

L.A. County pulls back on cause of death, citing complexity of diagnosis

By David Rosenfeld

drosenfeld@scng.com

Public health officials have further taken back their initial determination, issued a day earlier, that the death of a 17-yearold Lancaster boy was linked to the coronavirus.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that the department was no longer including the death of the teen in Lancaster as associated with COVID- 19 and the case was still under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..

“There were extenuating circumstances that pointed to an alternative diagnosis as well,” Ferrer said. “So we asked CDC in Atlanta to perform additional testing so we know with all certainty what the cause of death

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was… Our hearts go out to the family as they too await further clarification as the cause of death.”

The boy, whose death was reported Tuesday as a result of the coronavirus, died about a week ago — and the family apparently had no idea the boy might have had the coronavirus at the time of his funeral, according to Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who said he spoke to the father of the 17-year-old.

The father could not be reached on Wednesday to verify that Parris spoke directly with the father.

Parris said neither the father nor the boy, while he was alive, underwent a coronavirus test, according to the boy’s father. The county, however, said in its statement that “early tests indicated a positive result” for the teen.

“How am I supposed to make decisions as the mayor of Lancaster if I learn about a death in our community a week later in a press release?” Parris asked.

He criticized the department, saying they’ve shown “absolute incompetence.”

Parris said the boy’s father, who drives for Uber, is distraught that he might have the virus and could have passed it to family or friends who attended his son’s recent funeral, or possibly to a passenger in his ride-hailing vehicle.

“They had people at the funeral and nobody knew,” Parris said.

Tuesday, Ferrer had said that an individual under the of 18 had died in Lancaster as a result of the coronavirus. But then later in the afternoon, the department clarified the statement to say the person tested positive for COVID-19 but the case was still under investigation.

“The case is complex and there may be an alternate explanation for this fatality,” the statement said. “Patient privacy prevents our offering further details at this time.”

On Wednesday, Ferrer clarified, saying that a diagnosis can often be complicated.

“In general terms, often times what happens is there could be one diagnosis when someone presents at the hospital and a patient is treated for that diagnosis,” Ferrer said. “The idea that this virus can also infect someone that has another diagnosis is something we’ve started to learn about.”

Parris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who mentioned the case during his own Tuesday afternoon news briefing, said the young person was in “good health” before he fell ill.

Parris said the teen died five days after showing signs of sickness.

“This was not the father’s fault,” Parris said. “This was the leadership’s fault.”

If confirmed, the Lancaster teen would be the first death of a minor in the United States associated with COVID-19. There have only been a few others reported worldwide.

Roughly 80% of deaths associated with COVID-19 are people over the age of 65. But when it comes to infection rates and hospitalizations, the coronavirus does not seem to discriminate by age. Out of 799 confirmed cases in L.A. County, 13 people have died, not including the Lancaster teenager, according to reports on Wednesday. Roughly 39% were between the ages of 18 and 40, and about 38% were between 41 and 65, according to the health department’s latest figures. Just 10 people were confirmed with the virus who are under age 18, and 141 people over 65 have contracted it. Roughly 20% of confirmed cases in L.A. were hospitalized, their ages unknown.

Data presented last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that up to onefifth of infected people ages 20 to 44 have been hospitalized, including 2% to 4% who required treatment in an intensive care unit.

“Young people can and will be impacted by this virus,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday. “In fact young people disproportionately are the ones testing positive in California.”

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris says he’s angry about finding out about the boy’s death in a news release.

HANS GUTKNECHT STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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