Family Begs For "Enormous Caution" After 20-Year-Old Dies Following COVID-19 Illness

by Morgan Brinlee

As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge across the United States, the family of a college student who died getting COVID-19 is speaking out to encourage people to "exercise enormous caution" as the pandemic continues. Twenty-year-old Bethany Nesbitt was in her junior year at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, when she died alone in her dorm room late last week after testing positive for COVID-19.

"Our hearts are shattered. My sweet sister, Bethany, died as she slept in her dorm room Thursday night," Stephen J. Nesbitt wrote on Twitter earlier this week when sharing a statement from his family. "She was 20. She was COVID-19 positive."

According to Stephen, Bethany suffered a pulmonary embolism, a tragic but common cause of death in COVID-19 patients. A report from Kosciusko County Coroner Tony Ciriello — and shared by Grace College — noted that, "while COVID did play a role in contributing to [Bethany's] death, it was not caused by COVID."

In their statement, Bethany's family revealed she had begun experiencing common COVID-19 symptoms the week of Oct. 20 and got tested for the virus Oct. 22. But the results of that first test have never been delivered due to an unknown clerical error. Instead, Bethany's family said she began quarantining in her dorm after she began feeling ill, communicating often with her family and campus health officials. When Bethany's oxygen levels dropped on Oct. 26 she headed to the emergency room where a doctor determined she "very likely" had COVID-19.

However, Bethany was sent home as doctors did not believe her case to be severe. Indeed, on Oct. 28 Bethany told her family she'd been fever free for 24 hours and that her oxygen levels were normalizing. She was tested for COVID-19 a second time on Oct. 29, a test which came back positive. The morning of Oct. 30, however, Bethany was found deceased in her dorm room, having passed in her sleep.

"We speak out not to spread fear, but to encourage others to exercise enormous caution as COVID-19 cases continue to rise," Bethany's family said in their statement. "Please don't assume that young people will not be impacted by this virus. Bethany was careful. She wore her mask. She socially distanced. We urge you to follow health officials' protocols and precautions."

On Wednesday, the United States recorded 104,004 new cases of COVID-19, a new single day record, according to The Washington Post. Hospitalization rates were also reported to have hit record highs in at least 18 states, including Indiana, where Bethany attended school. To date, nearly 234,000 people have died from the virus, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Among the Nesbitt family's recommendations was the suggestion to skip large holiday parties and gatherings. "The risk of gathering in large groups aren't worth it this year," they said. "There will be an empty seat at our table the next time our family comes together — and every time after that. This loss is forever. We plead with you to take this virus seriously."

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.