Log In

Reset Password
News Local News Nation & World New Mexico Education

Ignacio student dies from COVID-19 complications

Case marks first COVID-related pediatric fatality in La Plata and Archuleta counties
Samantha Rock, an eighth grade student at Ignacio Middle School, died Sunday morning from COVID-19, according to a Facebook post from Ignacio High School. (Durango Herald file)

An Ignacio School District student has died following COVID-19 complications.

Samantha Rock, an eighth grader at Ignacio Middle School, died Sunday morning.

District Superintendent Chris deKay announced Rock’s death Sunday through a post on Ignacio High School’s Facebook page. Rock had attended Ignacio schools since the first grade.

“I knew Samantha in school and she was a super-nice kid. She was very respectful and a very nice young lady,” deKay said. “I just want to make sure that the family understands that we care, and the community understands we’ll do everything we can to support them.”

DeKay said Rock was Native American, but could not verify her tribal membership.

Lindsay Box, spokeswoman for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, declined to comment.

“We have learned of this tragedy. It is very difficult to learn of the death of a child who has recently tested positive for COVID-19,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health.

Though schools are closed for the holidays, Ignacio School District made counselors available at the middle school Monday and Tuesday for support services, deKay said.

“But mostly, we just grieve with the family,” he said.

A funeral for Rock will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 27, at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Ignacio.

Rock’s death is the first COVID-19-related pediatric fatality in La Plata and Archuleta counties, according to SJBPH.

La Plata County has had 7,376 cases of COVID-19 and 67 deaths from the disease as of Wednesday, according to SJBPH data.

Rock’s death comes amid growing concern for the omicron variant. Omicron is spreading rapidly on the East Coast, and public health officials in La Plata County warn that it’s a matter of time before the southwest corner of the state sees another surge.

Preliminary research has shown that the new variant is significantly more transmissible than the delta variant, which has accounted for nearly all of the new cases in the U.S. in recent months. New evidence also suggests that two vaccine doses may not be enough to neutralize omicron, leading officials to plead with the public for booster shots.

Statewide, about 10,300 Coloradans have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data, 10- to 19-year-olds account for about 13% of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.2% of deaths.

Those numbers are comparatively small, but children are still vulnerable to the disease.

“We’re urging parents and guardians to get eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible,” Jollon said. “While the risk to children has been less over the course of this pandemic, it is certainly not zero, and it is very important that we protect our children.”

Indigenous Americans make up about 0.6% of cases and deaths in Colorado and 0.56% of Colorado’s population. They account for about 8% of COVID-19 cases in La Plata County, in line with the county’s Native American population of about 8%

However, Indigenous people across the U.S. have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

According to a study released in August 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 infection rates were 3.5 times higher for Native Americans than for whites.

Another CDC study released in December 2020 found that younger Indigenous people died from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites. About 35% of Indigenous people who died were younger than 60. For whites, those younger than 60 made up just 6.3% of deaths.

Nationwide, almost 62% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. In La Plata County, vaccinations among Native Americans have lagged, with only 51% fully vaccinated, according to SJBPH data.

About 45% of people between the ages of 10 and 19 are fully vaccinated in La Plata County, behind the national average of 52.8%.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have fallen across Colorado and La Plata County after a surge in early November.

But public health officials are increasingly worried about the omicron variant, which has spread rapidly in Europe and parts of the U.S.

“Earlier this week, Colorado was still reporting a nice decline in our delta surge and a decline in our hospitalizations,” Jollon said. “There’s early evidence that this is about to significantly change in Colorado.

“As far as transmissibility goes, we are absolutely seeing evidence that omicron does spread much more quickly than delta and the other preceding variants of COVID-19,” she said.

Surveillance by CDPHE has already shown a 10-fold increase in the percentage of cases testing positive for omicron last week.

On Monday, federal health officials announced that omicron already accounted for 73% of new cases in the U.S. since it was detected in California on Dec. 1.

There is still much to learn about omicron, but scientists think preliminary evidence shows that two shots will not be sufficient to protect against disease, Jollon said.

“What the evidence says is that being fully vaccinated and boosted is the very best thing you can do to avoid severe illness at a time where our hospitals are very likely to be over-stretched,” she said.

As families gather for the holidays, protective measures against COVD-19 are more important than ever.

“(Omicron) really increases the importance of masking in public indoor spaces and avoiding large indoor gatherings whenever possible,” said Chandler Griffin, spokesman for SJBPH.

During the holidays, families and children can access vaccines and testing through SJBPH and its partners.

Residents can visit sjbpublichealth.org for more information.