Agnes Velasquez remembers the last words her teen daughter said before Covid-19 severely attacked her respiratory system.
“She told me that she loved me,” said Velasquez, who rushed her daughter to the hospital.
Velasquez spoke with CNN on a video call from the ICU room at Broward Health Medical Center where her 15-year-old daughter, Paulina, has been battling Covid-19 for about 10 days.
“She can hear me,” Velasquez said.
Velasquez showed her daughter up close, her hair combed in a ponytail and her eyes shut. A ventilator tube covers a portion of her face.
Velasquez said she tells her daughter every day to, “Fight for your life.”
As this mom prays for a miracle, in English and Polish, over her daughter’s body, she said she has a message for the public, and especially for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“The governor should encourage people to take vaccines, to wear masks, to apply the (Covid) guidelines,” Velasquez said.
DeSantis doubled down against mask mandates Tuesday, after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance recommending children wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
“Parents know what’s best for their children; therefore, parents in Florida are empowered to make their own choices with regards to masking,” DeSantis’ spokesperson Christina Pushaw said Tuesday. “Fortunately, the data indicate that Covid is not a serious risk to healthy children, which is why schools in most countries were among the first institutions to reopen.”
However, CDC officials say data demonstrates that children remain at risk for Covid-19.
“If you look at the mortality rate of Covid, just this past year for children, it’s more than twice the mortality rate we see in influenza in a given year,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday.
The number of Covid-19 cases in children and teens is trending upwards, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group reported more than 38,600 cases in children from July 15 to 22, more than triple what was being reported at the end of June.
In Florida, which accounted for 20 percent of the nation’s new cases earlier this month, the positivity rate has jumped to 15.1 percent, according to state data.
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University who advises Miami-Dade County leaders on the pandemic, said she is not surprised the virus has reared its head again in her state and across the country.
“In every case, we keep jumping the gun and behaving as if the pandemic’s over because case numbers are going down. And that allows the virus to once again, take the upper hand,” Marty said.
Marty’s advice? Get vaccinated and wear masks, even for those already fully vaccinated.
Velasquez said her daughter, who was healthy, had not been vaccinated before Covid-19 attacked her body. She panned the camera to the machines showing her daughter’s heart rate and oxygen levels. Then, she said that when her daughter started feeling ill and couldn’t breathe, the teen called on her mother asking for help.
Velasquez said she rushed to her daughter’s aid without a mask, not thinking the deadly virus had already crept into her home. Days later, the worried mother tested positive despite being vaccinated against the virus.
“I most likely got it from her,” said Velasquez, who only suffered minor symptoms.
And while she said she doesn’t know where Paulina contracted the deadly virus, she said it might have been at school or church.
As Paulina’s symptoms became more severe, her mother said the teen worried about her brothers. “She wanted her brothers to get vaccinated,” Velasquez said.
The worried mother said her sons are in the process of getting vaccinated. Velasquez is helping coordinate their vaccines from her daughter’s ICU room, where she now spends every hour of the day since her daughter Paulina fell ill.
Velasquez panned the camera to show the couch where she sleeps and the food tray where she set up a computer workstation.
“I came with my daughter and I’m not going anywhere,” Velasquez said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong name for Dr. Aileen Marty’s university. Marty is an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.