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Cuomo: Number of countries reporting COVID-linked child illness nearly doubled in a week

Cases of rare kids illness spike
Cases of rare kids illness spike 03:18

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the number of countries reporting a mysterious illness in children believed to be connected to COVID-19 has nearly doubled in just one week. Only seven countries had reported the illness last Thursday, but now six more are investigating cases.

Meanwhile, the number of states with reported cases also jumped significantly, Cuomo said at his daily update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases nationwide has reached more than 300 across 27 states, while New York is investigating 157 cases as of Thursday. At least three children have died there in connection to the illness.

The illness, which the CDC refers to as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, is also sometimes called Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, abbreviated as PMIS. It appears in some children after an earlier COVID-19 infection but does not present with the same symptoms. Inflammation causes fever, abdominal pain and rash, as well as an array of other symptoms. It was not initially connected to COVID-19 because it does not appear to cause respiratory issues — a telltale sign of the coronavirus, according to Cuomo.

The governor said Thursday that "in some ways" PMIS is "more frightening" than COVID-19 because it can cause inflammation of the heart's blood vessels, leading to what is essentially a heart attack in a child.

"The most overarching common theme among all the patients is fever and significant fever," Dr. Roberta DiBiasi told CBS News. "So not low-grade fever, but fever that is, you know, 102 or higher and persistent."

Cuomo reiterated his warning that as more states and countries look out for the syndrome's symptoms, more will likely find cases. "Tip of the iceberg was right because in one week we doubled the countries that found cases," he said.

There is still more unknown about PMIS than is understood. To heed the unknown, Cuomo said it was still too early to make a determination on whether kids in the state can physically return to school in the fall. As a precaution, the state will issue guidelines in June so schools and colleges can begin plans to potentially reopen in September, he said. 

Summer school will be taught through distance learning. "As a parent, until I know how widespread this is, I wouldn't send my child to day camp," he said.

Cuomo said Wednesday that the majority of new COVID-19 cases are coming from low-income communities and communities of color. 

"That's where the cases are still coming from, that's where the virus is still spreading," he said.

"You look all across the country, it's lower-income communities, predominantly minority, where we're still seeing an increase in the numbers. We looked at that in New York City, we did a very extensive research project, and it is true," he said. "You can look at where the cases are coming, look at the testing data by geographic area, by ZIP code and find out where the cases are coming from."

Cuomo said testing has shown that about 27% of New York City's lower-income communities tested positive for the coronavirus, while the general population is about 19%. The Bronx had the highest percentage of positive tests at 34%. There have been almost 95,000 total deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S., according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

Chip Reid and Peter Martinez contributed to this report.

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