An East High School junior died last week after an apparent “COVID-related illness,” the Madison School District said, which would make him the youngest to succumb to complications from novel coronavirus in Wisconsin.
Isai Morocho, 16, was “a caring friend and family member with a ready smile and great sense of humor,” as well as “an excellent student who enjoyed theatre and had talked of becoming a chef and owning his own business,” East High School Principal Brendan Kearney said in a statement to students and families Sunday.
In a follow-up video message to students and staff Monday, Kearney said Isai’s death was “a tremendous loss for everyone in our community and our hearts go out to his family in this time of unimaginable grief, and we’re going to do everything we can to support them as an East High community.”
Kearney said Isai’s family asked him to remind students and staff that the boy was young and healthy “so that we would remember the danger that COVID poses to all of us and that we would do everything we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.”
The family declined a request to speak with the State Journal. But in an interview with the Spanish-language website MiWisconsin posted on YouTube on Sunday, Isai’s father, Milton Morocho, said his son developed vomiting and diarrhea, apparently on Nov. 18.
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The family took him to his regular doctor at Dean Clinic, where he tested negative for COVID-19 and the medical staff said he likely had a stomach flu, Milton Morocho said. Isai didn’t have respiratory symptoms, his father said.
After the vomiting and diarrhea didn’t go away, the family took Isai to the doctor again, his father said. It’s not clear when. Providers checked his heart and lungs and said they were fine, Milton Morocho said. He said they didn’t do another COVID-19 test.
“They checked him out well. I had confidence in what the doctor said,” he said.
But when Milton Morocho returned from work one day, apparently the day before Thanksgiving, Isai was sitting down and said he felt sorry and afraid. He said he was hungry and had a snack. Soon after, his father said, he appeared to have passed out suddenly. Milton Morocho said he tried to resuscitate his son until an ambulance arrived and took him to a hospital.
After his death, someone at the hospital told him Isai had pneumonia related to COVID-19, Milton Morocho said. The State Journal was unable to confirm the cause of death with the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office or local public health authorities.
“Unless we receive a record from a medical facility or medical examiner indicating that the death is due to COVID, our practice is to wait for a death certificate to confirm whether COVID was listed on the death certificate as an underlying or contributing cause of death,” said Sarah Mattes, Public Health Madison and Dane County spokeswoman.
Milton Morocho said he’s not sure where Isai might have contracted a coronavirus infection. He encouraged people to wear masks and get tested but didn’t say if he or others in the family had recently been tested.
“It could have been any of us,” he said. “We could have been asymptomatic.”
A friend of Isai’s family, Maria A. SantaCruz, put together a GoFundMe account, the proceeds of which will go toward funeral costs.
Contributors to the fund shared their memories of Isai on the webpage.
“Isai was my student last year; he was sweet and funny and he cared deeply about his friends. We are heartbroken for his family and are sending all our love,” wrote Sarah and Brad Motl.
“We will miss you forever, Isai. Your smile brighten so many hearts. You always focused on the positive, you listened to me whenever I needed to talk, you made me laugh … and I am forever grateful for you,” wrote Amir Lee.
The school scheduled support times for students via the online meeting service Zoom on Monday and from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“At a moment like this, I wish that now, more than ever, we could be at the school to support each other, our staff need to do that too, and someday we will but for now we’re just going to have to do our best to honor Isai and support the many people whose lives he touched,” Kearney said.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recorded 2,534 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday, which brought the statewide cumulative total to 387,235 cases. Of that cumulative total, 17,095 were hospitalized and 3,313 have died.
“All of MMSD is heartbroken to learn of the passing of an East High School student due to COVID-19-related causes,” the school district said in a statement. “Our community has lost a wonderful young person, and when a school family experiences a tragedy, especially the loss of a young life, it deeply impacts all of us. In the days ahead, MMSD will be focused on providing our students, families and staff the support needed in order to help them process this tremendous loss.”
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