LANCASTER, Texas - A Lancaster 17-year-old is the city's first COVID-19-related death.
Lancaster ISD identified the girl on Tuesday as 17-year-old Jameela Dirrean-Emoni Barber. Health officials say she died in the ER on Saturday before she could be admitted to a hospital. She did not have any known underlying health conditions.
Lancaster High School Principal Eleanor Webb says Jameela had a smile as big as the state of Texas.
“She was a leader cadet. She loved ROTC,” Webb said. “That baby was a self-starter, a self-motivator, and we were looking forward to celebrating her induction into the National Honor Society.”
Instead, Webb and hundreds of Jameela’s classmates are celebrating her life.
The healthy 17-year-old with no underlying conditions is the city’s first death caused by coronavirus. It’s unclear when she became infected or how long she was sick. She was taken to an ER over the weekend and died before she could be admitted.
“She passed on Saturday,” Webb said. “Friday evening, she was on the phone telling her teacher that she didn’t feel well. She was sorry that her assignment was late. But as soon as she felt better, she was going to get her assignment in. We’re talking about an exceptional student. We’re talking about a baby who was in a class of her own.”
Even the superintendent knew Jameela.
“She was such a sweet student. Great personality. A leader,” said Lancaster ISD Superintendent Dr. Elijah Granger. “I could tell that she was just someone special and that she was going to do something special in life.”
The junior was looking ahead and planning on college. Jameela’s death has made the pandemic personal for Dr. Granger.
“It becomes just a news story to a lot of people until it hits home,” the superintendent said. “Once it hits home, you realize that it’s for real and it’s serious.”
Webb led a video conference with hundreds of Lancaster students and parents Tuesday morning. Grief counselors are available to them. Jameela has a younger sibling in the school district.
“I cried with my students. I spoke with my students. I encouraged my students,” Webb said. “She was somebody special. She really, really was.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family as they process the loss of their loved one. It is devastating to see the havoc this virus has put on our community both young and old,” Lancaster Mayor Clyde Harston said in a news release. “We will continue to pray for the family and the safety of our residents during this difficult time.”
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Although Gov. Greg Abbott announced a stay-at-home order for the state will expire at the end of April and places like restaurants, stores and theaters will begin to reopen on May 1, Lancaster’s mayor strongly encouraged people to do it safely.
“We encourage you to support our local businesses, and to continue taking precautionary measures like social distancing of 6 feet, wearing face coverings, avoid touching your face and washing your hands often,” city officials said.
A spokesperson for the city says the only people Jameela is known to have recent contact with is her family.