The death of a 5-year-old Detroit girl — the youngest person in Michigan to die of COVID-19 — is fueling the work of a task force being created to examine racial disparities in the impact of the disease.
“This task force will serve in her memory,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said Monday afternoon during a news conference. “Her story cuts right to the core of why we must act now and why it’s important to follow the orders and maintain social distancing.”
Skylar Herbert’s death resonated Monday in a city where the school community has felt the impact of the virus with parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals falling ill or dying. In the Detroit Public Schools Community District alone, 11 people with ties to the schools have died, according the district’s web site.
Gilchrist described Skylar as the daughter of first responders who was around the same age as his own twin daughter and son. He said the girl lived in a zip code of Detroit that is predominantly black (48219), the second hardest area hit by the coronavirus in the city.
Skylar “developed a very rare complication that led to the swelling of her brain and a lesion in her frontal lobe,” Gilchrist said.
Her death hit especially hard for public officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who spoke about Skylar at an earlier news conference.
Whitmer said the girl’s father was a Detroit firefighter for 18 years, and her mother a Detroit police officer for 25 years.
“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. Nobody does,” Whitmer said. “Nobody deserves to lose a child, or a parent, or a grandparent, or any loved one. And that’s precisely what’s at stake today.”
Duggan described Skylar as “a real daughter of the city of Detroit.” He said her parents’ lives have been built “around building the city.” He also noted that Skylar’s parents are longtime, close friends of Hakim Berry, the city’s chief operating officer.
Berry, Duggan said, has been “sharing with us stories of how bright, personable, and funny Skylar was.”
As of Monday, Michigan has 32,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 2,468 deaths.
The task force Whitmer has created will address racial disparities in the data. While African Americans make up 14% of the population in the state, they account for 40% of the COVID-19 deaths.
Gilchrist said the pandemic “has shown us that there is still a lot of progress to be made as far as access to health care, improving our education system and making it more resilient, and shoring up safety nets, like our system to cover people who are unemployed.”
“It’s also shown us that despite the progress that has been made for generations … we still have to respond to generations of racial disparities and inequalities that have impacted communities of color throughout our state, and across the country.”
The Detroit News reported that Skylar, who died Sunday, had spent the previous two weeks in the hospital on a ventilator.