At first, Ebbie and LaVondria Herbert thought their 5-year-old daughter Skylar had strep throat.
She began complaining about a persistent and painful headache a month ago, resulting in a visit to the pediatrician on March 23 where she tested positive for the common bacterial infection. But as Detroit News reported, Skylar’s headache didn’t go away, becoming so intense that her parents took her to the emergency room. There, the Herberts discovered Skylar, who also had a mild fever, had COVID-19.
Skylar died on April 19, becoming both the youngest victim and the first known child to die of COVID-19 in the state of Michigan.
The diagnosis came as a shock to the Herberts, they told NBC News. Both of Skylar’s parents are first responders: LaVondria is a veteran police officer, while Ebbie has been a firefighter for 18 years. Skylar hadn’t left her home in the weeks prior to her coming down with symptoms and had no known underlying health conditions, they said.
Skylar was ambitious and energetic: she loved to dance and aspired to be a pediatric dentist, the Herberts shared. Her big personality earned her the nickname “Little Diva” from her grandmother, and her parents noted her sense of adventure and willingness to try new things.
“This is something that has gotten out of hand, and we need to do something about it, and that’s the reason why we’re doing this interview,” Ebbie Herbert told NBC News. “To let people know that it doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s coming for you.”
News of her death traveled wide, with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer offering condolences to the Herberts.
“They’ve been on the front line, and they’ve served with honor and integrity,” Whitmer said, according to ABC News. “They did not deserve to lose their child to this virus. Nobody does.”
Data shows children are significantly less likely to become seriously ill from the coronavirus, though researchers are still trying to answer exactly why that is. But asymptomatic is not the same as immune and while severe illnesses have been rare, a handful of children across the U.S. have died from developing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Herberts live in Northwest Detroit, an area hit particularly hard by the virus. As of Sunday, 599 coronavirus cases had been reported in the Herberts’ zip code. Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit and its surrounding communities, makes up the largest share of the state’s 31,000 coronavirus cases, with nearly 14,000 cases reported and more than 1,100 deaths.
According to a recent MLive report, more than half of those cases and deaths happened in Detroit, where most of the disease’s victims (at least 76 percent) have been black.
Neither LaVondria nor Ebbie Herbert has tested positive for the virus, though both have developed symptoms, reports ABC News. However, LaVondria hasn’t been able to get tested, while a test for Ebbie conducted late last month came back as inconclusive. Meanwhile, protests have broken out in Michigan and other states in response to shelter-in-place restrictions, but the Herberts want to stress the importance of these safety measures.
“Practice the social distancing, wear the masks, keep washing your hands,” LaVondria said. “This is affecting everybody around the country.”
The Herberts say they’ve been appreciative of Whitmer’s leadership in enforcing the public health restrictions. As they mourn the death of their daughter, they hope other parents take the virus seriously.
“When you’re dealing with a virus like this, we’re learning, and even now,” Ebbie Herbert told NBC. “It doesn’t care what color you are. It doesn’t care about your nationality. It doesn’t care about your political preference. It’s just a monster that is trying to destroy whatever is in its way.”