In theory, Skylar Herbert was not someone who was likely to have contracted the coronavirus. Far younger than those considered vulnerable to COVID-19, the 5-year-old girl did not leave her house in Detroit for weeks; though both her parents are first responders, neither of them had tested positive for the virus when she started feeling ill.
The first sign of something wrong was a headache so painful that Skylar couldn't stop crying. On March 23, her parents, Ebbie and LaVondria Herbert, took her to the pediatrician. There, Skylar tested positive for strep throat and was given antibiotics, according to the Detroit News.
But she cried all night, enduring a headache that wouldn't let up. Worried, her parents took her to the emergency room. Skylar tested positive for the coronavirus. Doctors said the headache and fever were side effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Days later, she had a seizure and was admitted to the ICU at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, where doctors found that she had a rare form of meningitis, a complication from the coronavirus, and that her brain was swelling. On April 3, Skylar was put on a ventilator.
After staying on the ventilator for two weeks, Skylar died in the hospital on April 19, becoming the youngest known person who died from the coronavirus in Michigan, according to state data.
In a statement, Beaumont Health called Skylar's death a "tragedy."
"We are heartbroken that COVID-19 has taken the life of a child," the hospital said. "We extend our deepest sympathy to Skylar's family and all others who have lost a loved one to this virus."
Skylar's parents did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News. But LaVondria Herbert, a police officer of 25 years, told the Detroit News she and her husband decided to take Skylar off the ventilator because her condition was no longer improving. Doctors also told them that, by that point, she might have been brain-dead.
"We basically just knew she wasn’t coming back to us,” LaVondria said.
Now her parents are urging others to take the state's safety measures seriously. Ebbie Herbert, a firefighter of 18 years, told NBC News that the coronavirus outbreak in the US, where confirmed cases have surpassed 800,000, has "gotten out of hand."
Ebbie said they want people to know that "it doesn't matter what age you are, it's coming for you."
Skylar was a bubbly, outgoing girl who wanted to be a pediatric dentist when she grew up, the Herberts told NBC News. She was affectionate too — she "would run up to you and jump in your arms and hug you," her mom told the Detroit News.
"It didn’t matter what she was doing; she would stop what she was doing and tell me she loved me like 20 times a day," LaVondria said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the Detroit Police Department said they are deeply saddened by Skylar's death.
"Skylar was a part of our Detroit Police Department family and her loss was felt by all of us," the statement said. "We are grieving with [her parents] and Skylar will truly be missed."
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called Skylar "a real daughter of the city of Detroit," and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a press conference that she's reached out to the Herberts.
"They’ve been on the front line, and they’ve served with honor and integrity, and they did not deserve to lose their child to this virus," Whitmer said. "Nobody does."
So far, Michigan has 32,967 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,700 deaths. Whitmer's stay-at-home order, issued in late March, has drawn protests over the past week as residents demand she allow businesses to reopen.
But the Herberts said they support the stay-at-home order. Ebbie told NBC News the coronavirus doesn't discriminate.
"It doesn't care what color you are. It doesn't care about your nationality. It doesn't care about your political preference," he said. "It's just a monster that is trying to destroy whatever is in its way."