Since the state began tracking numbers in mid-March, more than 3,500 Wisconsinites have died from COVID-19 or related complications. One of those deaths was Isai Morocho, a 16-year old Madison East High School student.
According to the Madison Metropolitan School District and his family, Morocho succumbed to a “COVID-related illness” over Thanksgiving break.
“Hello East High School, this is Mr. Kearney and this message is for our students — in what is a very sad day and a sad week for our East High Community,” East High Principal Brendan Kearney told students in a brief, three minute video posted to one of MMSD’s YouTube pages.
“At a moment like this, I wish now more than ever that we could be together at the school to support each other,” he said. “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.”
While Public Health Madison Dane County has not yet confirmed that Morocho died of COVID-related causes, both the Morocho family and MMSD officials have attributed his death to the virus.
According to data from the State’s Department of Health Services, only 14 of Wisconsin’s more than 3,500 deaths are between the ages of 20-29. The state hasn’t reported a single death in the ten to nineteen range.
That would make Morocho the youngest Wisconsinite to succumb to the pandemic — which has claimed the lives of more than 268,000 people nationwide. That’s about equal to the population of Madison.
Morocho’s family has asked for privacy during this time and has declined interview requests with news outlets.
In an email to WORT, a PHMDC spokesperson wrote that they haven’t received any formal record of Morocho’s death and, therefore, cannot confirm that his is a COVID-related fatality.
Christy Vogt, Health Education Coordinator with the health department, wrote that “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.”
She added that a death certificate could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on if the family opts for an autopsy.
Numbers from the DHS reveal that only about .4% of the state’s overall COVID-related deaths are under the age of thirty. But, according to Jeff Pothoff, a doctor with UW-Health, those numbers aren’t indicative of how individual cases will unfold.
“The thing that I’ve been seeing folks doing is looking at population statistics and applying it to that personal situation, and that can be a tricky thing to do,” Pothoff says. “There is some truth, in the sense that if you’re young and healthy and have no comorbid conditions, you’re less likely to suffer from the virus. But less likely doesn’t mean immune.”
He adds that there’s a lot doctors don’t yet understand about the long-term effects of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Younger people who contract the illness may not suffer short-term severe side effects like their older counterparts, but that doesn’t preclude them from complications down the road.
“Anecdotally, working in the emergency department, I’m seeing a lot of people come back who had mild COVID-19 who still can’t taste or smell. And then fatigue is what really seems to bring them back.”
Since Morocho’s passing, a GoFundMe page to support funeral costs has raised more than $25,000. Maria SantaCruz, the page’s organizer and Morocho’s aunt, says he wanted to become a baker and eventually own his own cafe.