On July 24, University of Georgia housing director Linda Kasper emailed employees about the death of housing employee Ana Cabrera. The email does not mention COVID-19 as the cause of death.
However, on Aug. 7, Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson confirmed Cabrera’s cause of death was COVID-19, in a statement to The Red & Black.
A cousin of Cabrera’s, who requested to remain anonymous, confirmed to The Red & Black that Cabrera tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving a test on July 15. After receiving her results on July 18, she died less than a week later on July 24.
“We’re just trying to grasp the idea that she is not here,” Cabrera’s cousin said. “I don’t know why the university is not talking about it or acknowledging it. I guess they don’t want it to be a fault of theirs.”
The university’s response
From July 24 to Aug. 6, The Red & Black received multiple anonymous news tips regarding Cabrera’s death due to COVID-19.
The Red & Black reached out to the university several times for a comment on the death of Cabrera, beginning July 27. When the university would not comment on the employee’s cause of death, The Red & Black also attempted to reach out to employees in the housing community.
Due to fears of repercussions, employees were reluctant to speak about the matter. Lord & Stephens Funeral Home held Cabrera’s funeral service on July 26 but could not comment on the cause of death.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a member of the University of Georgia community. Our sympathy goes out to our co-worker’s family and friends. Out of respect for them, we will not comment further,” UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor said in a statement on July 27.
Trevor repeated the university would not comment further when asked about the identity of the individual or the cause of death when asked on July 27, July 28 and Aug. 5.
When asked if the university will notify the community for any coronavirus-related deaths among the UGA community, Trevor said, “The university does not determine the cause of death when we tragically lose a co-worker. In the scenario you have suggested, we would defer to the Georgia Department of Public Health to inform the university, recognizing that the employee and their family have certain legally protected rights.”
The week after Cabrera’s death, the Georgia Department of Public Health recorded the death of a 32-year-old female in Clarke County due to COVID-19.
After the DPH confirmed the death of a 32-year-old female in the county, The Red & Black asked the university again if it could confirm if the death were Cabrera. Trevor said, “As we indicated previously, we will not be commenting further,” on Aug. 5.
Once the ACC coroner confirmed on Aug. 7 that Cabrera died due to COVID-19, The Red & Black reached out to the university for one final comment with this information.
“As a general matter, when the university receives a report of a confirmed COVID-19 case, the relevant supervisor is notified so that other employees or students in the affected unit can take appropriate actions to include quarantine, testing and isolation,” Trevor said Aug. 7, and repeated that UGA does not comment on the cause of death of employees or students.
The University Health Center’s COVID-19 Health and Exposure Updates website, which reports COVID-19 cases in the UGA community, has not been updated to reflect Cabrera’s death.
Classic City News initially reported on Aug. 5 that a UGA employee died of COVID-19. Trevor’s statement to Classic City News and The Red & Black, as well as the emails from University Housing, do not mention COVID-19. Classic City News reported on Aug. 6 that it received confirmation from the ACC coroner.
Notifying the community
With in-person classes set to start in less than two weeks and dorm move-in beginning Aug. 14, UGA has not clarified whether it will notify students, faculty and staff of any deaths in the community.
Aaron Diamant, vice chancellor of communications for the University System of Georgia, said USG "does not determine or comment on the cause of any employee or student death."
"Questions regarding COVID-19 notifications should be directed to the Georgia Department of Public Health," Diamant said.
Following the death of Georgia Southern University faculty member Tim Pearson, GSU released a similar statement to UGA's.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a member of the Georgia Southern University family. Our sympathy goes out to the individual’s loved ones. Out of respect for the family and friends of the deceased, we will not comment further,” the GSU statement read, published on Twitter by GSU’s student newspaper, The George-Anne. The family-placed obituary for Pearson listed complications of COVID-19 as the cause of his death.
A July 29 New York Times article reported at least 14 coronavirus-related deaths at U.S. colleges. Cabrera’s death is the first recorded COVID-19-related death in the UGA community. UGA has reported 443 cases of COVID-19 in the UGA community, as of Aug. 5.