Nicole Sperry, a third-grade teacher from Suffolk, has been conscientious about keeping her family safe amid the pandemic. She supports mask-wearing, vaccinations and taking other precautions. But on Monday, she lost her 10-year-old daughter, Teresa Sperry, to Covid-19.
It’s a fate no parent wants to imagine – and Sperry’s family and friends aren’t alone in mourning the loss of a young child to Covid-19 this week. On Wednesday, a second child in Eastern Virginia also succumbed to the virus, state health officials say. That child was confirmed to be younger than 10, but a spokesman for the department of health could not provide any additional information.
"This should not be happening," Sperry said in a Facebook post after learning about the death of another local child. “I am so sorry for this family.”
The news of the tragic deaths comes as cases are surging among children in the state. Health officials say hospitalizations among juveniles have reached the highest levels seen since the start of the pandemic.
"In September, we had 1,673 children test positive for Covid-19 throughout the CHKD health system," Elizabeth Earley, Marketing and Public Relations Program Manager at Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughter, told The Triangle. "We also had 65 children hospitalized with Covid-19 related illness. That is the highest monthly number since the beginning of the pandemic."
Sperry began exhibiting signs of Covid-19 last Wednesday on her way home from school. By Sunday, her symptoms became more severe, and she was taken to Sentara Obici Hospital for testing. After a chest x-ray showed her lungs appeared clear, she was sent home. But by Monday morning, she stopped breathing and was transported to CHKD hospital, Sperry’s parents told The Virginian-Pilot. She passed away that afternoon.
"Teresa was a kind and caring person. At the age of 10, she always had a big smile for everyone," Nicole Sperry said. "She was a healthy child, and her pediatrician didn't have any concerns for her health as far as Covid."
Sperry said Teresa loved rainbows and unicorns. Wanting to be like her mom, she often trotted around the house in high heels and played with makeup and accessories. She recently started learning to roller skate, and she adored her cat.
"Now that she's gone, there is a black hole inside of us. She should still be here with us, playing with her cat, learning as much as she can," Sperry said. "Please wear your mask, get vaccinated if medically possible and show compassion for those that are at risk. We do not need to lose anymore children to this illness."
Sperry said she does not blame Sentara Obici Hospital or CHKD for her daughter’s death. She believes Teresa contracted the virus at school from other students who went to class despite being sick.
The loss of the two children from Covid-19 this week mark the 12th and 13th confirmed juvenile deaths in Virginia since the start of the pandemic. A teenage girl from Norfolk also passed away from the virus in August. As of Saturday, more than 1,000 children have been hospitalized in Virginia due to Covid-19. Nearly four in ten of them are from Hampton Roads, according to The Daily Press.
According to Earley, many, but not all, of the children presenting to CHKD with Covid-19 have serious symptoms. "Many have needed increased respiratory support and ICU care," Earley said.
On Friday, CHKD issued a statement on their website warning of longer urgent care wait times due to increased demand. Earley confirmed those delays are connected to the rising Covid-19 cases.
Health experts say it’s vital for the general public to remain vigilant to protect young people and others from the virus. They stress that the Delta variant is more infectious and is leading to more hospitalizations of children compared to earlier coronavirus strains.
Many children's hospitals are also reporting increasing rates of hospitalizations from other respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). That virus typically spreads during the winter, but more children started to become sickened by it when mask restrictions were eased and socializing increased, according to staff at CHKD.
The most common symptoms of the Delta variant among both adults and children include headache, sore throat and runny nose. Other signs include:
Fever or chills
Sudden loss of smell or taste
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Both children and adults are urged to receive medical care immediately for any emergency Covid-19 symptoms, which include difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, sudden confusion, an inability to stay awake or pale, gray or blue-colored lips, skin or nail beds.
A small number of children are also experiencing a rare condition associated with Covid-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). That illness typically shows up as a delayed immune system reaction that attacks cells in a patient's lungs several weeks after a Covid-19 infection, according to the CDC. Virginia Department of Health has reported a total of 88 confirmed MISC-C cases in the state since the start of the pandemic.
The Mayo Clinic advises parents to be on the lookout for potential signs of MIS-C, which usually include a persistent fever that co-occurs with other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea or stomach pain; skin rash; a fast heartbeat; rapid breathing; dizziness; and red or swollen lips, tongue, eyes, hands or feet.
In addition to recommending vaccines for those who are eligible, healthcare professionals at CHKD emphasize that it’s important to wear masks indoors and at large gatherings, especially at school. It’s also critical for parents and children to stay home if they’re sick, they say, even if Covid-19 is not suspected.
"Tragically, rising numbers of Covid-19 infections among children, surging cases of respiratory illnesses such as RSV and the pandemic's ongoing impact on mental health are pushing our children's hospitals to capacity," a statement issued by CHKD said. "We call on leaders in the public and private sectors and the American public to stand with us to help protect our children."