FRESNO (CBS SF/AP) — The California Department of Public Health reported Friday that a teenager in the Central Valley died due to complications from COVID-19, which is the first death in the state of a resident in the 12-17 age group.
State officials say the teen, who has not been identified, died in Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno and had underlying health issues. The hospital confirmed the death in a statement released to media outlets Friday.
“The death of this patient reaffirms that children—and no age group—are not immune from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read. “It is imperative, now more than ever, for us to all work together to prevent further spread of this disease. Our children deserve no less.”
The hospital did not release further information on the victim.
The death comes as coronavirus cases in the Central Valley continue to surge. The eight counties, including Fresno and Kern, home to major cities, had positive test rates between 11% and 18% at the beginning of the week, well above the state average.
The area’s population contains a disproportionate share of California’s working class, whose jobs at farms and factories make social-distancing difficult. The dramatic increase in cases since the reopening in June pushed the state to act — Gov. Gavin Newsom recently directed $52 million in funds to hopefully stop the spread of the disease there.
While state health officials acknowledge the tragedy, they note there have not been any other youth deaths from the virus in the state.
“Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of this young person whose death is a tragic and powerful reminder of how serious COVID-19 can be,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
It’s extremely rare for children to die of the coronavirus. As of mid-July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 228 children had died of the disease in the U.S., less than 0.2% of the nation’s deaths.
In California, more than 9,000 people have died from the virus, and three-quarters were 65 and older. Only about 9% of California’s half-million confirmed virus cases are children, and very few have suffered conditions serious enough for hospitalization.
Scientists still aren’t certain why children don’t seem to be as seriously affected by the virus as adults.
In March, Los Angeles County officials said a 17-year-old boy died of the virus. At the time it was believed to be the first death of a child, but days later local health officials walked back the initial finding, saying it was possible he died from something else. County health officials said the case would need to be evaluated by the Centers for Disease Control.
Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster, said the boy from his city and died from septic shock after being admitted to the hospital with respiratory issues.
How susceptible children are to the virus is a key question as leaders in California and elsewhere determine if and how to safely reopen schools this fall. Most California counties are now on a state monitoring list because of rising virus cases and may not reopen schools for in-person instruction until they are off the list for 14 days.
Statewide, 96 people died during the past 24 hours, according to figures released Friday. Cases are increasing by the thousands each day, but the curve appears to be flattening. The average number of new cases per day over the past week was 8,322, compared to 9,881 in the previous week.
The percentage of people testing positive has dropped to 6.5% over the past seven days, compared to 7.2% over the past 14 days.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
For more data on COVID-19 cases in California, visit the California Department of Public Health website.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.