The Slatest

Teen Who May Have Died of Coronavirus Denied Medical Care Because He Lacked Insurance

A woman wearing a mask walks in Downtown Los Angeles on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
A woman wearing a mask walks in Downtown Los Angeles on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. APU GOMES/Getty Images

A teenager in Lancaster, California whose death earlier this month may have been linked to the coronavirus was rejected from an urgent care center because he didn’t have health insurance. He complained of respiratory distress but authorities at the center told him on March 18 to go to a hospital. “He did not have insurance, so they did not treat him,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a YouTube video. On his way to the hospital, the teenager went into cardiac arrest. When he got to the hospital, health care workers were able to revive him and keep him alive for six hours. But time was of the essence and by the time doctors got to him 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,” Parris said.

In the video, Parris says the 17-year-old did not have any underlying medical issues and had been healthy days earlier. “The Friday before he died, he was healthy. He was socializing with his friends,” Parris said. “By Wednesday, he was dead.”

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health initially said the teen died from COVID-19, noting it was likely the first death in the United States from the virus of someone younger than 18. But it later backtracked and said further study by the Centers for Disease Control is needed to make a final determination. “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 Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement on Tuesday. “Patient privacy prevents our offering further details at this time.” The teenager’s father is an Uber driver and he is suspected of having the virus.