NORTH BERGEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The death of a 6-year-old girl in North Bergen, New Jersey was caused by the flu, the state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday.
The girl was the second New Jersey child to die from the flu amid the epidemic this season. Authorities said the 6-year-old became ill over the weekend and her condition quickly deteriorated.
The girl – identified as Nevaeh Hernandez – was a kindergartner at Lincoln Elementary School. Many parents at her school struggled Tuesday with the decision to bring their children to class amidst what has become one of the worst flu seasons on record.
Photos of Neveah showed her in a bright pink tutu, a hot pink shirt at the pool, and a pink jacket for school. A family friend told CBS2’s Jessica Layton that pink was Neveah’s favorite color.
Nevaeh’s death has broken the hearts of her family and community at the school.
“It’s unbelievable. This is a very painful moment,” Marta Claudio told CBS2. “It’s very painful to see a little girl just starting her life and passing this way.”
Chastity Ledon said her daughter was a classmate of the young flu victim.
“She just says, ‘I don’t know what happened, mom,’” Ledon said. “They didn’t want to discuss it with the kids.”
Friends of the family said the girl’s father is stationed with the military in Germany, and flew home when he learned her condition was deteriorating over the weekend.
“She was a great girl. She was the light of their life and the father was all about that baby,” Claudio said. “Loves his daughter to death.”
Since Nevaeh’s death Monday, the school district said it will be disinfecting all surfaces – including sinks and doorknobs – with bleach solution.
Superintendent of North Bergen Schools Dr. George Solter also remained at Lincoln Elementary Tuesday to answer parents’ questions as the school now additionally staffed with grief counselors.
“Not only for the students but also for the staff,” he said. “Yesterday, the teacher of the student went home very upset.”
The superintendent is also urging parents not to send their children to school if they have flu-like symptoms and said the health department is offering flu vaccines to residents.
Solter said Tuesday that they are organizing an effort to get more kids vaccinated.
“We are going to do another round of flu shots because not everyone had them from the fall,” he said.
The free flu shots will be offered on Thursday. The Department of Health said a flu shot is not one of the required vaccines for elementary school students.
Still, many parents admitted Tuesday that they were apprehensive for drop off.
“It’s worrying,” said kindergarten parent Brenda Cruz. “My husband didn’t want me to bring her, but you know, she has to come to school.”
“I actually brought her today with a bottle of sanitizer,” said kindergarten parent Gemma Fandian.
Mom Dineen Provenzano is also taking precautions of her own.
“I want to make sure my daughter has her flu shot and keep her home a couple days just to watch out for her and I want to know she’s safe,” she said. “I mean, I hope every child is safe. God this should never happen to children.”
New Jersey Health officials last month said a 4-year-old girl in was the state’s first flu-related death this season.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 60 children have died of flu-related illness so far this year.
As the flu epidemic persists, parenting expert Tammy Gold said you should teach your kids to wash their hands, sanitize surfaces and have calm conversations if they’re anxious about classmates getting sick.
“You want to explain what is happening,” Gold said. “A lot of people indoors, germs — and you can’t see the germs, so it’s hard to fight them.”
A GoFundMe has been set up for medical, funeral and memorial costs for Neveah’s family.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)