Chicago baby’s March death caused by COVID-19, investigation finds

The medical examiner’s office said 9-month-old Joseph Myles died on March 23 at Mercy Hospital in Chicago as a result of viral pneumonia due to coronavirus NL-63 and COVID-19 infection. The death was ruled natural.

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Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar

Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar puts on personal protective equipment as she prepares to perform four autopsies in as many hours at the county morgue in Chicago in May.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Wednesday that a Chicago infant’s death in March was caused by COVID-19 — marking a rare death of a baby from the deadly virus.

The medical examiner’s office said 9-month-old Joseph Myles died on March 23 at Mercy Hospital in Chicago as a result of viral pneumonia due to coronavirus NL-63 and COVID-19 infection. The death was ruled natural.

In first reporting the death on March 28, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he was “shaken.”

And Illinois Public Health Department Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike suggested a death in one so young could serve as a “wake-up call” for those not taking the coronavirus seriously.

“There has never before been a death associated with COVID-19 in an infant,” she said in March. “A full investigation is underway to determine the cause of death.”

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing last year.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing on March 23.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

“I want everyone to take COVID-19 seriously. If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call,” Ezike said.

Since then, however, other apparent cases of infants dying from COVID-19 have been reported in other states and parts of the world. 

According to the medical examiners’ office, an autopsy found the infant’s lungs were congested, indicating an infection. Two swabs were taken on March 23 and 24 that revealed conflicting results. A first swab detected the virus, while a second didn’t.

The swabs were then sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the medical examiner’s office also sent lung tissue to the CDC for verification.

“On April 14, 2020, the CDC determined there were two coronaviruses present in the tissues submitted – human coronavirus NL-63 and COVID-19, and that only coronavirus NL-63 was present on the nasopharyngeal swabs,” medical examiner’s office spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny said.

More tissue samples were also sent to the CDC, and ultimately the medical examiner’s office determined both coronavirus NL-63 and COVID-19 induced viral pneumonia caused the boy’s death.

As of April 2, 1.7% of cases in the U.S. were of patients under 18. Infants accounted for 15% of pediatric COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. The CDC also said 73% of children with COVID-19 reported symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath.

The medical examiner’s office noted in its death investigation report that Myles’ family had reported he had a history of a cold and cough.

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