A family who lost their 8-year-old daughter to COVID-19 is speaking out in the hopes of saving other children. Second-grader Aurea Soto Morales of North Carolina died on June 1 after brain swelling led to a coma. Her illness began on May 28.

Her parents tested positive for COVID-19 first. Morales’ older sister, 17-year-old Jennifer, told FOX 8 that she and her late little sister then began feeling ill.

Jennifer says she’s not sure where her family caught COVID-19 as she and Aurea had mostly been staying home with their mom, Araceli, who is a stay at home parent while their dad, Salvador, worked construction as an electrician. “It’s awful,” Jennifer told ABC 11. “I wasn’t expecting a child to die, especially not my sister.”

“Everyone associates it with old people, as they think they’re the only ones who are going to get it, but that’s not true,” she told FOX 8. “My sister got it.”

Jennifer and Aurea’s mother, Araceli Morales Martinez spoke to reporters this week as well, explaining in Spanish that this is “a nightmare I never imagined living…It’s such a large pain. I ask all mothers take care of their children, please.”

Hearts are broken for the Morales family and a Go Fund Me has been created to help pay for Aurea’s hospital bills and her funeral.

image 5880

Morales family

Aurea is the first child to die from COVID-19 in North Carolina. According to the State Epidemiologist. Dr. Zack Moore, “While most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe, this is a tragic reminder for all of us that COVID-19 can be a serious illness for anyone. We want to encourage people to protect themselves and others by wearing face coverings, waiting at least six feet apart and washing hands often whenever you leave home.”

According to a recent study published JAMA Pediatrics, kids and teens are more at risk for COVID-19 than previously thought (but the researchers say “it important to emphasize that the overall burden of COVID-19 infection in children remains relatively low compared with seasonal influenza” and stress that well-child appointments and preventive pediatric health maintenance should be a priority bow as “children continue to face a far greater risk of critical illness from influenza than from COVID-19”. )

Kids with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk for COVID-19, but kids without these conditions (like obesity, diabetes, seizures or chronic lung disease) are also at a lower risk for the virus.

“The idea that COVID-19 is sparing of young people is just false,” said study coauthor Lawrence C. Kleinman, professor and vice chair for academic development and chief of the Department of Pediatrics’ Division of Population Health, Quality and Implementation Science at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “While children are more likely to get very sick if they have other chronic conditions, including obesity, it is important to note that children without chronic illness are also at risk. Parents need to continue to take the virus seriously.”

Like Aurea, 5-year old Skylar Herbert died after COVID-19 caused her brain to swell. Both her parents worked as first responders. Her mother, Vonnie was a Detroit police officer for 25 years, and her father, Ebbie is a Detroit firefighter. Skylar was the first child in Michigan to die from COVID-19.

image 5881

Go Fund Me

As infectious-disease specialist Janet A. Englund told the Washington Post, after Skylar’s death, “The numbers are low…Until it’s your child.”

Aurea was Latina and Skylar was Black, and according to experts at the United Nations, minorities are at greater risk for COVID-19 due to the systemic racism prevalent in our society and our health care systems. As NPR notes, “In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it’s more than four times greater.”

And according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the death rate for Black Americans is almost double other racial groups, and this isn’t just a problem in the U.S. In England and Wales the death rate for Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people is almost twice the fatality rate for white people.

“The appalling impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities is much discussed, but what is less clear is how much is being done to address it,” Bachelet said. “Urgent steps need to be taken by States, such as prioritising health monitoring and testing, increasing access to healthcare, and providing targeted information for these communities.”

The families of children like Aurea and Skylar want people to understand that COVID-19 is still a threat to children…but it’s more of a threat to certain children because of racism. If we want to protect children we need to follow public health guidelines regarding social distancing and hand hygiene, but we also need to hold public health officials and the entire health care system accountable for the way white supremacy has made children of color more vulnerable to this disease.