September 20, 2020

Within Days, Florida Family Loses Two Siblings to Coronavirus

Credit…Courtesy of Darisha Scott
Credit…Courtesy of Darisha Scott

Mychaela Francis was home with her brother, Byron, when she saw he was struggling to breathe.

Paramedics rushed him to Florida Medical Center on June 27. He died that day of the coronavirus. He was 20.

Three days later, Ms. Francis, 22, began complaining of headaches and a fever, according to her family. Terrified, she insisted that her mother take her to the hospital. She died on July 8, according to the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office, which confirmed that the cause of death for both siblings was Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The deaths of two young siblings, within 11 days of each other, have devastated their large family in Lauderhill, Fla. They have also underscored two disturbing developments in the coronavirus outbreak: the surge of cases in states like Florida that reopened swiftly, and the rising number of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are testing positive for the virus. In Florida, the median age of residents testing positive has dropped to 40, down from 65 in March.

There have been at least 369,826 cases of the coronavirus in Florida, according to a New York Times database. As of Wednesday morning, at least 5,205 people had died. Four children between the ages of 10 and 17 have died of the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has refused to mandate wearing masks in Florida and once boasted of the low numbers of cases in the state compared with places like New York, has pushed back against the idea that hospitals have been overwhelmed with cases. At a Covid-19 briefing in Tallahassee on Tuesday, he said that statewide, a large number of hospitals and intensive care units had beds available.

“I think we’re going to get through it,” he said. “I think we’re on the right course.”

On Monday, Mr. DeSantis was heckled by protesters in Orlando, where he had traveled for a news conference to encourage residents to donate blood.

“You’re lying to the public!” protesters yelled. “Shame on you.”

Byron and Mychaela Francis became ill less than two weeks after they got back from a family trip to Orlando, according to Darisha Scott, their cousin, who had joined them with her children.

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Updated 2020-07-23T10:30:23.915Z

Because state officials had lifted restrictions, the family felt reasonably secure leaving Broward County, where masks are mandatory and a curfew has since been put in place to deal with the pandemic.

“We said, ‘Let’s go get the kids out of the house,’” Ms. Scott, 31, said. “And then all this happened.”

The family went to Universal Studios, where masks were required and rides were wiped down regularly. Employees repeatedly passed around hand sanitizer to people standing in line, Ms. Scott said. Mr. Francis did not go to the theme park, his mother told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

But in stores like Walmart, masks were not required at the time, and although Ms. Scott said her relatives covered their faces when they went into the stores, other customers did not, she said. On Monday, Walmart began requiring customers to wear masks inside its stores.

Ms. Scott’s 8-year-old daughter, who has sickle cell anemia, began complaining of headaches and a fever soon after they returned, Ms. Scott said. She tested positive for the virus. Then, Ms. Scott said, her cousins got sick.

The suddenness of Mr. Francis’s death shocked the family, Ms. Scott said, but they held out hope that his sister would recover.

“We were all scared but trying to be optimistic because we felt that Mychaela caught it early,” she said. “It felt like she had a chance.”

Both siblings had underlying medical issues, including obesity and asthma, according to the medical examiner’s office. Ms. Francis also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

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The siblings’ mother, Monete Hicks, has had difficulty sleeping since the deaths of her children, said Tanra Washington, 34, another cousin.

“It’s a deadly matter,” she said. “It’s not fair to bury a loved one because of other people’s ignorance, or insensitivity to this matter.”

Relatives described Ms. Francis as a warm, ambitious woman who was working at Little Caesars and was babysitting as she worked to open a clothing and eyelash business. She had named it “Pretty Everlasting.”

Mr. Francis, who loved comic books and was called Big Teddy Bear by his family, also babysat and put his savings into his sister’s business.

The family held a funeral for the siblings on July 17.

Ms. Scott said the deaths of her cousins should be a warning to anyone who has resisted wearing a mask or a face covering.

“I don’t want anyone to experience losing one, let alone two, of their children,” she said. “Take it seriously. If not for the health of someone else, for the health of your family. This is not a game.”

Ms. Scott added: “Be mindful of everyone. We have to share this world with everyone.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.