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Teenager Turned Away from Urgent Care for Lack of Insurance Dies After Testing Positive for COVID-19

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A teenage boy who tested positive for COVID-19 died in Lancaster, California, after being denied service at an urgent care center because he did not have health insurance. While the county health department walked back its initial claims he died from COVID-19, his family questions why they weren’t informed he tested positive.

On Wednesday, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris outlined in a video that a 17-year-old died after testing positive for COVID-19. The teenager went to an urgent care center with respiratory symptoms but was turned away because he didn’t have insurance. Parris said the boy was rushed to the hospital, but he didn’t make it and he died from septic shock, according to ABC News. He died five days after he started showing symptoms.

“He had gone to an urgent care,” Parris said in the video. “He didn’t have insurance so they did not treat him and sent him to AV Hospital. En route to AV Hospital, he went into cardiac arrest. 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.”

The teenager’s death was initially attributed to COVID-19, a new-to-humans coronavirus that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications. However, the Los Angeles Public Health Department said it is investigating the teenager’s death further with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because other factors may have caused 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,” the department said in a statement. “Patient privacy prevents our offering further details at this time.”

According to Los Angeles Daily News, however, the teenager’s family had no idea he had tested positive for COVID-19, even at the time of his funeral. The father has reportedly also tested positive for the coronavirus. Mayor Parris expressed frustration at the lack of communication from the health department and its potential cost to the safety of the community.

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

If confirmed the teenager’s death would be the first case of a minor dying from COVID-19 in the United States. There are currently more than 85,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and the virus has caused nearly 1,250 deaths so far. According to the CDC, about 2 to 3% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are under the age of 19. Prior to an investigation into the Lancaster teenager’s death and another teen’s death in Louisiana, the CDC reported no deaths of people under 19 in the U.S.

Regardless, health and public officials urged the public to keep practicing safety precautions, including social distancing and frequent hand-washing, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CDC reported that about 20% of people between the ages of 20 to 44 in the U.S. who test positive for COVID-19 require hospitalization.

“Young people can and will be impacted by this virus,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. “In fact young people disproportionately are the ones testing positive in California. … With this tragic death it’s a reminder for everyone to take this seriously.”

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Header image via jarun011/Getty Images

Originally published: March 27, 2020
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