Teen Death From Possible COVID-19 Illness is Being Investigated, Say L.A. County Health Officials

A police officer closes access to the Santa Monica pier in Santa Monica, California, March 23, 2020 - Getty -H 2020
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Three more individuals have died in L.A. County as a result of the novel coronavirus as the number of newly reported cases spikes to 138.

On Tuesday, when public health officials reported the death of a 17-year-old Lancaster boy due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, it sent shockwaves across the country as it was believed to be the first death of a minor during the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Today, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Department of Public Health director, announced that her team is no longer including the fatality in its coronavirus case count and that his death is currently under investigation.

Further, officials have put in a request to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to help determine a cause of death. Citing HIPAA regulations, she offered no further information on the case. "There were extenuating circumstances that pointed to alternative diagnoses as well," Ferrer explained during a briefing Wednesday, the latest in a series of daily press conferences to update the public on the county's measures in dealing with the spread of the novel coronavirus as well as providing updated numbers. On the latter note, Ferrer said that overnight, three more people died as a result of COVID-19 — all individuals were over the age of 65 with underlying health issues — and there were 138 newly reported cases, bringing L.A. County's total case count to 799.

In a 48-hour span there have been 266 newly reported cases of COVID-19 countywide, meaning that total cases will most likely move into the thousands by the weekend. Ferrer said that 80 percent of positive cases are between the ages of 18-65 while 40 percent are between the ages of 18-40. Approximately 160 people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus have been hospitalized, reflecting 20 percent of all positive cases. Of those, 44 are currently hospitalized, and Ferrer added that 77 percent are housed in local intensive care units, signaling how "very sick" those individuals are. 

Of the Lancaster teen, the mayor of that Antelope Valley city told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that the boy was killed by septic shock and that his father is also infected with coronavirus. It's been reported that the father is an Uber driver who had contact with the public in that area on a daily basis. Per today's report from the L.A. County Department of Public Health, Lancaster reported 13 positive coronavirus cases. 

Worldwide, there are now over 460,000 confirmed cases and 20,000-plus deaths. In the United States, those numbers break down to 64,107 and 893 deaths. Nearly half of those cases are located in New York state with New York City being particularly hard hit with 17,856 cases, according to The New York Times. Ferrer acknowledged that L.A. County is not seeing the same acceleration in cases that New York is experiencing, but "this does not mean we won't see more cases once testing capacity increases." She added that, as of yesterday, only 6,300 people have been tested in L.A. County and capacities for testing in the area remain limited. "New York and Italy are examples where there were rapid accelerations. We would be foolish to not prepare for a similar situation in L.A. County," she said. "We’ve gotten a dramatic increase as we’ve done more lab testing. [New York is] testing lots more people than we are testing here. We need to be prepared [for higher numbers] as we’re testing more people."

She nodded to ongoing issues the county has experienced with lack of testing and the delay — sometimes up to six days — of getting results. Once again, she urged anyone who is presumed to be positive or who is exhibiting symptoms to stay home and self-isolate for a minimum of seven days and up to 14 days. She said L.A. County health officers will soon be issuing a public order that requires self-isolation for those who have tested positive or who have been told that they are presumed to be positive by a physician or clinician. It's unclear what the enforcement of that order will be. 

"I want us all to keep hope," Ferrer said. "From my perspective, the vast majority of Angelenos are doing everything they can. I bless all of you for being part of this effort. I ask those of you still having trouble coming into compliance with social distancing guidelines, to please do so. People are very, very sick. You can do your part."