Mayor: Teen who died of possible COVID-19 lacked insurance, which delayed treatment

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Posted at 11:09 AM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 14:09:36-04

LANCASTER, Calif. (CNS) -- A 17-year-old Lancaster boy whose death was originally attributed to coronavirus but is now being investigated by federal health authorities sought treatment at an urgent-care center but was turned away because he had no insurance, according to the city's mayor.

In a video posted to YouTube, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said the unidentified teen "had been sick for a few days."

"He had no previous health conditions. On Friday (March 13), the Friday before he died, he was healthy. He was socializing with his friends," Parris said. "By Wednesday, he was dead.

"Wednesday, he had gone to an urgent care for an HMO. He didn't have insurance so they did not treat him and sent him to AV (Antelope Valley) Hospital. En route to AV Hospital, he went into cardiac arrest. When he got to AV Hospital, they were able to revive him and keep him alive for about six hours, but by the time he got there, it was too late.

"We've learned that once you go into respiratory issues -- you have trouble breathing, you're short of breath -- and you have a fever, that is the time to get medical treatment without delay," he said.

The boy's death was announced Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and was initially reported as a coronavirus case -- making the teen the first known juvenile to die of the virus in the United States. Later that day, however, health officials walked back the diagnosis, saying "the case is complex and there may be an alternate explanation for this fatality." They said the case was being investigated further by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the teen's death is no longer included among the county's 21 fatalities attributed to COVID-19, as of Friday morning.

But Parris said the boy's death should still be taken as a warning of the severity of the virus and the need for people to adhere to stay-at-home and other guidelines mandated by health officials.

"To me it's fabulous that everybody is just coming together to get the job done," Parris said. "Everybody is doing their job and I'm hoping that you are too. Your first priority, keep your kids home. make certain that if you're one of the people who are vulnerable to this -- meaning my age -- that you stay away from people."

He said that when he leaves his house and returns home later, his wife requires him to off his clothing in the garage then take a shower before he can talk to her.

"That is how serious we're taking it, and I hope you're taking it as serious as that," he said.