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'Every parent's nightmare': Boy's death may have virus link

NEW YORK – A 5-year-old boy has died of a rare inflammatory condition possibly linked to COVID-19, the first such death in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. Also, some New York City parks will see stepped-up policing to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. And 2,500 members of a “test and trace corps” will be in place by early June to combat the virus, the mayor said.

Details on virus-related developments across New York:

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RARE SYNDROME KILLS BOY

While children have been shown, so far, to be far less likely to suffer severe harm from the coronavirus, there is growing concern that a rare complication might be causing some to experience swollen blood vessels and heart problems.

At least 73 children in New York have been diagnosed with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition in children — and toxic shock syndrome.

The death of a 5-year-old boy Thursday at a New York City hospital is sad news for New Yorkers who believed children were largely unaffected by the coronavirus, Cuomo said.

“So this is every parent’s nightmare, right? That your child may actually be affected by this virus," the Democratic governor said. "But it’s something we have to consider seriously now.”

Children elsewhere in the U.S. have also been hospitalized with the condition, which was also seen in Europe.

A spokesperson for The Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, which treated the child, expressed condolences to the family and stressed that the condition has been, thankfully, rare.

“While it is concerning that children are affected, we must emphasize that based on what we know thus far, it appears to be a very rare condition," Mount Sinai spokesperson Jason Kaplan wrote in a statement. “Mount Sinai and the healthcare community will continue to investigate and study this new variant in hopes of finding a solution to this rare condition.”

There is no proof yet that the virus causes the syndrome. At least 3,000 U.S. children are diagnosed with Kawasaki disease each year. It is most common in children younger than 6 and in boys.

Symptoms include prolonged fever, severe abdominal pain and trouble breathing.

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PARK POLICING

Police officers will start limiting access to three New York City parks whose visitors have become poster children for bad social distancing, and a talking point in debates over whether there's a racial bias in how the rules are being enforced, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday.

Users of the parks, two on Manhattan piers and one on Brooklyn's East River waterfront, have been shamed on social media after images appeared showing young people, without masks, sprawled on blankets with little regard for rules barring people from getting within 6 feet of anyone else.

To control overcrowding, de Blasio said, police will start limiting how many people can access the parks at a time and warning people they will be allowed to stay only for a limited amount of time.

“Why are we doing this? Because it saves lives," said de Blasio, a Democrat.

The program will begin at Pier 45 and Pier 46 in Manhattan's Hudson River Park and Domino Park in Brooklyn.

Images of the crowded parks, all frequented predominantly by white people, have been used to help illustrate a disparity in enforcement of social distancing rules.

Some people have contrasted the relatively hands-off approach police have taken in those parks to the more aggressive enforcement in gatherings of black people — in addition to the breakup of large public funerals in Brooklyn held by Hasidic Jews.

Police department data released Friday showed that of the 374 summonses issued through May 5 for violating distancing orders, 52% were given to black people and 30% to Hispanic people.

The mayor said the racial breakdown is “an indicator that something’s wrong we need to fix.” He pledged more training and clearer protocols for officers.

“We do not accept disparity,” de Blasio said. “When we see disparity, we’re going to address it.”

Given the hundreds of thousands of interactions police have had with the public during the pandemic, de Blasio said, the overall summons totals are “extraordinarily low” and show a “huge amount of restraint by the NYPD.”

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office released data late Thursday showing that of the 40 people arrested for social distancing violations in that borough since mid-March, 35 were black, 4 were Hispanic and just one was white. All cases were dropped.

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CONTACT TRACING

A “test and trace corps” of 2,500 will be in place by early June to identify people who have the virus, isolate them in hotel rooms if needed and determine whom they've had contact with, de Blasio said.

De Blasio said 7,000 people have already applied to join the effort, which will be coordinated with New York state’s contact tracing initiative.

The mayor promised that “you’re going to see the biggest testing and tracing initiative you’ve ever seen in this city, in this country before. It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be intense, it’s going to reach deeply into the city, it’s going to be lifesaving, unquestionably.”

The operation will be headed by Dr. Ted Long, a top official at New York City Health and Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system, rather than by the leadership of the city health department, which is usually in charge of public health initiatives.

The hospital system’s leaders are best suited to implement the contact tracing program because of their experience running a network of 11 hospitals, plus clinics around the city, de Blasio said.

“I am convinced this is the way we’ll get it done,” he said.

Applicants for contact tracing positions will be trained in a Johns Hopkins University program sponsored by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Bloomberg Philanthropies, de Blasio said, and tech giant Salesforce will help set up a call center and data management system.