The Orange County Health Care Agency announced the county’s first pediatric death related to COVID-19 on Thursday, a teenage girl with significant underlying medical conditions.
Since the start of the pandemic, three people 18 to 24 years old have died of coronavirus complications in Orange County, but this was the first death of a person under 18. While its total deaths from the virus is much greater, Los Angeles County has not seen any deaths of people under the age of 18, but health officials say children between 0 and 4 years old now have the second-highest case rate per 100,000 people of any age cohort, at just over 20.
The Orange County girl’s exact age and other details were not released. Officials learned of her death Tuesday.
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She becomes the second person under the age of 18 to die from the virus in the state.
The first was a teen boy from the Central Valley in late July.
As students are reporting back to school, officials are keeping an eye on coronavirus cases among children. The state is allowing schools in grades up to sixth to apply for a waiver from all online learning.
California’s Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly, himself a pediatrician, devoted one of his coronavirus briefings this week to the issue of childhood vaccinations.
Among children ages 0-18, he said, “California is running at only two-thirds the vaccination level we were at the same point in 2019.”
Vaccinations are crucial leading into the fall and winter flu season, he noted, and even more so in the midst of a pandemic.
“This year getting your flu vaccine is especially important,” urged Ghaly, saying it can help prevent upper respiratory tract infections and prevent trips to the emergency room, a setting which can pose a threat of COVID infection.
Those pleas are even more resonant given the suspicion that kids could be “super spreaders.” A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Hospital for Children this week should amplify that concern.
The study of 122 children ages 0-22 years old found that kids who tested positive for coronavirus evidenced much higher levels of the virus in their airways than even adult ICU coronavirus patients. And kids were found to be most infectious in their first two days with the virus, when they’re probably not showing ay signs of illness.
That’s right, according to the authors, “the viral loads of these hospitalized patients are significantly lower than a ‘healthy child’ who is walking around with a high SARS-CoV-2 viral load.”
Cases among young adults have increased steeply in the past 7 weeks and that age group is “now driving infections in L.A. County,” according to Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer. Ferrer made the statement at her regular coronavirus press conference last Wednesday.
Adults ages 18-29 now have the highest case rates per 100,000 people of any demographic, at just over 25, she said.
Ferrer said those two age groups have seen “explosive growth” in the past 6 weeks. They now account for close to 70 percent of all new cases.
But older residents are not in the clear.
Warning that people of all ages with existing health conditions are especially susceptible to severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19, Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer said today high blood pressure and diabetes were the most common underlying ailments in
coronavirus patients who have died.
“About 5,500 persons have passed away from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and you can see that nearly 3,000 … had hypertension and over 2,000 — a big proportion of the deaths — had diabetes,” Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser said in an online briefing.
Roughly 92% of people who have died in the county from COVID-19 had some type of underlying health condition. In addition to hypertension and diabetes, other common conditions included cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, chronic renal disease, obesity, asthma and liver disease. Gunzenhauser noted that some people who died from the virus had more than one underlying condition.
“When you think about these diseases, you should realize these are very common,” Gunzenhauser said. “Hypertension is extremely common in the
elderly, and the majority of persons over 65 may have that condition. There could be over 10% of adults in county with diabetes. Obesity is very common, etc.
“…These are people who are very healthy, well-managed through the health care system with these conditions,” he said. “The point is if they also acquire this infection, they’re really at risk of becoming very seriously ill and possibly passing away from this virus. Again, these are people that are in our communities. They go to work. They are out for shopping. They’re all around us. It may be any of us. We have a collective responsibility to protect them. That’s really what getting through COVID is all about.”
Gunzenhauser noted that while most people who died from COVID-19 and had an underlying condition were over age 65, nearly one-fourth of them were aged 41-64 and about 3% were between 18 and 40.
“People may look at the percentages and think they’re not at risk, but when you realize the millions of people in Los Angeles County that are in these age groups, even a small percent, like 3 or 5%, represents an awful lot of people,” he said. “The point is everyone is at risk.”
Gunzenhauser reiterated recent optimism about the downward trend in key coronavirus-tracking figures in the county.
“The number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths and the positivity rate have been on the decline recently, which is really good news, and we are very hopeful that those positive trends will continue in the future.”
The county reported another 57 deaths due to the virus on Thursday, while Long Beach reported one additional fatality. The new deaths lifted the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 5,447.
The county announced 1,603 new cases, while Long Beach added 52 and Pasadena reported six. The countywide cumulative total stood at 227,404.
A total of 1,378 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Thursday, the same number as Wednesday. The number of hospitalizations has been trending downward in recent weeks, though health officials said the decline has leveled off in recent days. But the number is still well below the roughly 2,200 hospital patients seen in mid-July.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer on Wednesday said the virus continues to have a disparately high impact on Latino/a, Black and Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander residents, and also among lower-income residents. But she said recent numbers show that some progress is being made in closing the gap among ethnic groups, both in terms of new cases and deaths.
“We do have a long way to go, as you’ve seen, to reduce and eliminate the gaps that we’ve seen in COVID-19 health outcomes. But as I’ve noted, we’ve started to see some progress,” Ferrer said. “…I do think that testing and access to testing is one of the areas that I would estimate at this point has some responsibility for narrowing the gap because it allows people to be identified early on as being positive and they’re able to isolate and their close contacts are able to quarantine, which reduces community transmission as well as then further reduces transmission that may happen at workplaces.”
City News Service contributed to this report.