Florida teen dies of COVID-19 after maskless church party, taking Trump-touted drugs

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A Florida teenager who died of complications from COVID-19 attended a large church party without a mask just a few weeks earlier, then took unproven drugs touted by U.S. President Donald Trump before her parents brought her to a hospital, according to a newly-released medical examiner’s report.

Carsyn Leigh Davis, 17, died on June 23 after a lifetime of battling various medical challenges, including cancer and a rare autoimmune disorder that contributed to her death, according to the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s report. The girl was the youngest person to die of the coronavirus in her county at the time, and her death triggered an outpouring of sympathy and prayers for her family.

“We are incredibly saddened by her passing at this young age, but are comforted that she is pain free,” her mother, Carole Brunton Davis, said on a statement to the Fort Myers News-Press last month.

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Now, new details released by a former state data scientist have triggered a flurry of accusations against Davis’ mother and her church for the way they handled the girl’s last days.

The medically vulnerable teenager attended a youth church party with at least 100 attendees on June 10, according to the medical examiner’s report.

“She did not wear a mask,” the medical examiner wrote. “Social distancing was not followed.”

Davis’ parents gave her azithromycin, an unproven drug touted by Trump, for five days after the event as a preventative measure against the novel coronavirus, the medical examiner wrote.

Davis fell ill on June 13 but her parents thought it was just a sinus infection, according to the report. Her parents became more alarmed when she looked “grey” on June 19, so they gave her an oxygen tank and a dose of hydroxychloroquine, another unproven drug that Trump pushed for many months. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked authorization for the drug four days earlier, amid growing evidence that it was ineffective for COVID-19.

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Davis’ family brought her to the hospital later that day and she tested positive for COVID-19, according to the medical examiner. Her blood oxygen levels were falling but the family “declined intubation,” according to the report.

The girl was ultimately intubated on June 22 and she died on June 23, two days after her birthday.

Outcry over the girl’s death erupted on Sunday after Rebekah Jones, who runs the website Florida COVID Victims, released the medical examiner’s report in a blistering write-up of the case. She also shared several Facebook screenshots that purported to show Davis’ mother, Carole Brunton Davis, pushing various anti-science, conspiracy theory-driven medical views, including a no-mask website and a defence of the president’s advice on disinfectant.

One alleged post from Brunton Davis appears to show her complaining that doctors wouldn’t give the girl more hydroxychloroquine. Jones also alleges that Brunton Davis followed several conspiracy theory communities, including anti-vaxxers and QAnon.

“I am saddened for this girl and the loss of life,” Jones wrote. “I am so angered by the dangers of anti-science conspiracy theories and the people those altered mindsets put in harm’s way.”

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Jones also described the party at First Youth Church in Fort Myers, Fla., as a “COVID party,” and claimed in her write-up that the girl was “intentionally” exposed to the virus.

The First Assembly of God Church, which also runs the youth church, rejected Jones’ allegations in a statement on Tuesday.

The church denied hosting “COVID-19 parties,” and said that it is “following all of the health protections and protocols recommended by the state and local government with regard to holding its church services.” The church also said that it never encouraged behaviour to expose its congregation to the virus.

The First Youth Church Facebook appears to have been taken offline, although posts about a June 10 “Release Party” can still be found in the Google cache and on a secondary website that lists religious events. The posts do not explicitly mention the coronavirus or COVID-19.

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Davis was at the church on June 10 for a youth event with about 140 teenagers, an unnamed spokesperson told WINK News on Monday.

Precautions were in place during the event, Pastor David Thomas told NBC2 in a separate interview. He added that the church wasn’t policing social distancing, and if the kids ignored it, that was their decision.

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Videos on the adult church’s Facebook page show congregants singing on stage and in the crowd without masks. Most of them appear to be standing or sitting about six feet apart.

Florida has set new records for coronavirus cases in recent days, even as the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has sought to calm concerns and restart the economy. DeSantis has allowed various counties to decide their own policies on preventive measures such as wearing masks in public.

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“There’s no need to be really fearful about it,” DeSantis said on Monday. He added that the state’s death rate is less than two per cent because the average age of those infected is now 21.

Florida reported more than 6,300 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, following a record-setting number of more than 11,000 on Saturday and 10,000 on Sunday.

Jones was fired by the state government in May over a dispute about reporting the state’s case numbers. Jones said publicly that she had been pushed to paint a rosier picture of the pandemic on the state’s website.

Jones has been sharing information about the coronavirus and its victims in Florida since she was fired.

The details she released about Davis’ death sparked intense backlash on social media. A Facebook page dedicated to the girl’s memory appears to have been removed, and Brunton Davis’ Facebook page is also offline.

Jones’ Twitter thread has been liked and shared more than 1,000 times, respectively, and hundreds have responded with criticisms of Brunton Davis.

She has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

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Carsyn Davis “fought health challenges from the age of 2, including cancer and a very rare autoimmune disorder,” her mother said in a statement posted to a GoFundMe memorial page. Brunton Davis says the girl was an avid varsity bowler and photographer who also volunteered for the Special Olympics and played an active role in her church.

“She endured years of treatment, doctor visits, specialists and the effects of those treatments. She lost her dad at the age of 10,” Brunton Davis wrote. “Yet she survived it all.”

Brunton Davis added that her daughter remained strong throughout her battle with COVID-19.

“She never once shed a tear, complained or expressed fear.”

Jones also mourned the girl’s passing in her post.

“Every death on this website is heartbreaking. Every minute lost in someone’s life is a tragedy,” she wrote. “But this one will stick with me long after this virus has torn through our communities.

“Rest in peace, Carsyn.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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—With files from The Associated Press

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