The coronavirus pandemic continues to tear its way through the US, with more than 3.9 million confirmed cases and more than 143,000 deaths so far. And yet, there are still many Americans who refuse to believe the virus is a serious threat (or even worse, some who believe it’s a hoax). Monete Hicks is hoping to get through to the nonbelievers this week by speaking straight from the heart. Hicks lost both her daughter and her son to COVID-19, according to CNN, and she is warning anyone who will listen of just how devastating this virus truly is.
Hicks’ children were both in their early 20s and in good health until a trip to Orlando, Florida, left them both feeling ill.
According to Hicks, her son Byron Francis, 20, and daughter Mychaela Francis, 23, had been “basically homebound” for months since the pandemic began. But sometime in June, they decided to take a trip from their home in Lauderhill, Florida, to Orlando, some four hours away. It’s believed that at some point on their trip, they contracted the virus.
Soon after they returned, Byron started experiencing breathing troubles.
After waking up one Saturday from a nap, he was rushed to a nearby hospital by paramedics. But by then, it was already too late. Byron was pronounced dead June 27 of complications doctors later determined were from COVID-19.
Hicks was in shock.
Then, just days later, Mychaela also started feeling ill. Worried, she immediately asked her mother to take her to the hospital.
Although mourning her son, Hicks quickly drove her daughter to the hospital.
“‘Mama, just crank up the car, let’s go,'” Hicks said her daughter begged. She knew it had to be serious because her daughter notoriously hated hospitals. The pair quickly hopped in the car, where Mychaela was admitted with a headache and a fever.
But then, just like with Byron, came the breathing troubles. In the days that followed, her health only deteriorated more.
“She lost a kidney, her liver began to fail,” her mother told CNN. “And it just went one after another, one after another.”
Ultimately, Mychaela succumbed to the virus on July 8, just 11 days after Byron did.
Both Byron and Mychaela reportedly had underlying health conditions, but the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that COVID-19 was the primary cause of their deaths, NBC News reported.
The loss has hit their mother unbelievably hard, as she says her children “are my heart and will always be my heart.”
The grieving mom also shared how she’s handling the mourning process. “I hold up pretty much well at the daytime, but at night, it really hits me,” she told NBC South Florida. “I’m so used to them being in here.”
She added that “Having to plan two funerals is really hard.”
It’s also taken a toll on the entire Hicks family.
In a joint CNN interview she did with Monete, the children’s cousin, Darisha Scott, remembered Byron as “very funny, just the goofball of the family.” Mychaela, meanwhile, was “the light of the family, her smile could light up a room,” Scott recalled.
On a GoFundMe page created in their memory, Hicks wrote that Byron was the “big teddy bear” of the family — a young man whose smile “could light up a room.” Mychaela was described as a great listener who was always willing to give advice. To date, the page has raised more than $15,000 to put toward funeral costs, though more is still needed to meet Hicks’ goal.
Their mother is mourning the loss of her children while also urging others to take more precautions.
The mother, who has four other children she’s hoping to keep safe, also wants to save other families from this pain.
“All I can say is, take this, take this [virus] very seriously, because it’s real, it’s out there,” Hicks told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
Scott also emphasized that the coronavirus needs to be taken seriously. “It’s not a joke. It’s not a game. It’s not something that the government … made up,” she said.
“Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance and “don’t come out unless you really, really got to, especially here in Florida,” she implored.
Although that might seem like obvious advice, it certainly bears repeating in Florida right now.
The state is in the midst of a crippling virus surge, as cases have skyrocketed in the last month and a half. To date, Florida has reported more than 360,000 positive COVID-19 cases and over 5,000 deaths. At the same time, hospitals have been stretched to capacity, with dozens already running out of ICU beds.
Many experts have criticized the state’s decision to reopen the economy early, without enforcing restrictions such as mandatory mask orders.
“When everything started to open up and ease up, then our volume picked up,” Dr. Mark Supino, an emergency medicine physician at Jackson Health System in Miami, told Business Insider.
Still, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be moving ahead with his plan to keep the state largely open and not enforce a mask-wearing order. He’s also moving full-speed ahead with reopening schools next month, according to the latest reports.
Time will tell if Florida will begin to rebound soon or if these decisions will only lead the Sunshine State into a deeper health crisis.