Durham Student's Coronavirus Death Adds Urgency For Safe School Guidelines

Jun 5, 2020

The death of an 8-year-old Durham elementary student from coronavirus complications has added grim urgency to the need for guidelines on safely reopening North Carolina public schools.

Aurea Soto Morales died Monday from brain swelling related to COVID-19, according to a GoFundMe page created by her father and a family friend. It says her father, mother and sister have also contracted the coronavirus.

Adults are more likely than children to catch the virus and die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But an inflamatory syndrome connected with COVID-19 can be fatal to children.

Aurea was a student at Creekside Elementary in Durham. La Noticia reports that her symptoms began on May 28 and she was taken to UNC Hospitals after a convulsion.

"It all happened so fast, I couldn't even say goodbye," her big sister Jennifer Jano Morales told La Noticia.

This is the first child death from COVID-19 in North Carolina. The state Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday that the first child death happened June 1, though it did not name the child.

According to DHHS, more than 950 COVID-19-associated deaths have been reported in North Carolina, with nearly 800 of those being in people over 65 years of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 1% of COVID-19-associated deaths reported nationally have been in children 17 and younger.  

The death comes as schools across North Carolina are awaiting state guidance on how to safely reopen schools on Aug. 17, as mandated by the General Assembly. The state Board of Education had planned to get an update from health officials this week, but now say they'll offer a comprehensive report at a special meeting June 11. 

State Superintendent Mark Johnson acknowledged the death Friday in an email to district superintendents and others involved in crafting a pandemic plan. 

"I am glad that we are reopening our state; I am glad that we are having graduation ceremonies; I am glad that we are working to have school look more like normal when we return in the August," Johnson wrote, "but we lost a student to COVID-19 this week. She was about my daughter's age, and I cannot fathom the pain her family must be going through. They want people to know about their loss because they don't want other families to have to go through that same pain."

 

Johnson's message elaborated on what he said Thursday at the state board meeting: He expects the state Department of Health and Human Services to issue suggestions rather than mandates to guide schools in safe distancing, sanitation, masking and screening when students and teachers return to classroom.

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