An infant’s death has been linked to the coronavirus outbreak in Chicago, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said at a Saturday press conference.
The child — who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — is believed to be the first infant fatality from the virus worldwide, but an investigation is currently underway to conclusively determine the cause.
“Upon hearing the news, I admit I was immediately shaken, and it’s appropriate for any of us to grieve today,” Pritzker told reporters.
He added: “We should grieve for loss of the sense of normalcy that we left behind just a few weeks ago. It’s okay today to grieve.”
While the overall risk to children is lower than adults, children under the age of 1 are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the most serious effects of the virus. That’s in part because their immune systems are still being trained to identify and respond to threats.
Still, there “has never before been a death associated with COVID-19 in an infant,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said on Saturday.
For older children, researchers are still trying to learn why the virus appears to spare many of them from developing the most severe symptoms ― an unusual reality, considering how children tend to be grouped with elderly people in being more susceptible to illnesses like the flu. Seniors, meanwhile, have faced markedly higher fatality rates from COVID-19 compared to all other groups.
Illinois has nearly 3,500 confirmed cases of the virus, according to its health department. As in states across the country, Illinois officials are bracing for cases to increase dramatically. Chicago has enlisted the Army Corps of Engineers to convert McCormick Place, a convention center, into a 3,000-bed hospital.
Earlier this week, the death of a 17-year-old in California was announced as the youngest fatal case of COVID-19 in the United States, but officials later backtracked pending the results of a CDC investigation.
“On further investigation … there were extenuating circumstances that pointed to an alternative diagnosis,” even though he was positive for COVID-19, a Los Angeles county health official said Wednesday.
The teen’s case drew criticism, however, after it emerged that he had been initially turned away from an urgent care facility for not having health insurance. Although he tried to get to a public hospital, he went into cardiac arrest en route and died a few hours later.