For months, parents have been counting their blessings amid reports that the novel coronavirus generally seemed to spare children.
As the outbreak spread to the US, data from Chinese health officials showed children did not seem to be catching the virus in the same numbers as adults. If they did, they were not developing severe symptoms.
Now, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is warning of disturbing signs that that may not be entirely true.
A 5-year-old boy in New York City died Thursday from coronavirus-related complications, Cuomo said in a press conference Friday afternoon, adding that the state’s health department is investigating “several other cases that present similar circumstances.”
“This would be really painful news and would open up an entirely different chapter, because I can’t tell you how many people I spoke to who took peace and solace in the fact that children were not getting infected,” Cuomo said. “We thought children could be vehicles of transmission … but we didn’t think children would suffer from it.”
The governor didn’t name the child.
But the boy’s death comes as New York state is seeing evidence that coronavirus can cause severe illness in children, Cuomo said.
There are 73 pediatric patients across the state who display symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock-like syndrome, Cuomo said. “We were led to believe that the good news about this virus was that it doesn’t affect children … now we have a new issue that we’re looking at, which is something we’re just investigating now,” he said.
Health officials believe it may be linked
In an advisory sent to health care providers earlier this week, state officials said dozens of children in New York have been hospitalized with a condition doctors described as “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.”
New York City had alerted Monday that 15 patients between 2 and 15 were hospitalized over the past three weeks with the Covid-related syndrome.
Most of them tested positive for coronavirus or had positive antibody tests.
Some of the children had persistent fever, toxic shock syndrome, and features similar to Kawasaki disease, the state health advisory said.
Kawasaki disease causes inflammation in the walls of the arteries and can limit blood flow to the heart. While it’s usually treatable and most children recover without serious problems, it can also be deadly. It mainly affects children under 5.
Symptoms include a high temperature lasting over five days along with a rash, swollen neck glands, dry cracked lips, swelling of the hands and feet, and redness in both eyes.
Not just New York
The Kawasaki-like symptoms have appeared in children elsewhere. Seattle has reported a case along with a team at Stanford Children’s Hospital in California.
In the UK, pediatric specialists recently warned that a few children were becoming ill with the rare syndrome that could be linked to coronavirus. Experts there said abdominal pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and cardiac inflammation are common in those cases.
Similar cases have been reported in Italy and Spain.
A total of 216 people across New York state died from coronavirus Thursday, Cuomo said in a press conference Friday afternoon, referring to the statistic as the “most important and also the most painful.”
The number of new COVID hospitalizations has been flat over the past few days, he said.
“We would have hoped to see a steady, sharp decline in those numbers … that’s not what’s happening, it’s more flattening out.”
Overall hospitalization and intubation rates are down, Cuomo said.