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A day after a mom buried her 10-year-old who died from COVID-19, she was combating misinformation

Apart from a broken bone in her arm when she was younger, Teresa was a healthy 10-year-old social and happy girl, who never had the flu or even an ear infection, her mom said.

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Nicole Sperry on Sunday said her final goodbyes to her 10-year-old daughter, who died from COVID-19. Less than 24 hours later, she was behind a podium combating misinformation from parents at a Virginia school board meeting.

At a Chesapeake Public School District meeting in September, parents and community members denied the existence of the deadly virus and advocated for the removal of the district's mask mandate, insisting the pandemic is over.

"My message for you and all that are listening is that COVID is not over, no matter what people who have been standing up here have said," Sperry, who also teaches in the district, said during Monday's meeting. "On Sept. 27, during the last meeting, there were parents or concerned citizens that voiced misinformation to you."

"They said that COVID is basically over and that healthy people do not die. When they were sharing this information, their opinions, the fact was, I was sitting next to my healthy daughter's deathbed. She died five days after showing symptoms. I am sure they were speaking to what they've experienced, but they are wrong."

As of Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health has recorded a total of 14 pediatric and adolescent deaths in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

'COVID is real and our wish is that people take it more seriously'

Apart from a broken bone in her arm when she was younger, Teresa was a healthy 10-year-old social and happy girl, who never had the flu or even an ear infection, Nicole said.

Teresa attended school at Hillpoint Elementary School in Suffolk, 20 miles outside of Norfolk, Virginia, where there is a mandatory mask mandate in place. Nicole and her husband Jeff Sperry are vaccinated along with their two older sons. Teresa and their youngest 9-year-old son were not yet vaccinated but were eagerly waiting to become eligible.

Teresa's COVID-19 symptoms began with a headache one day, a fever the next, and worsened over the course of a few days. She developed a nagging cough, so bad it forced her to throw up, so Nicole took her to the emergency room where Teresa was tested for strep throat, which came back negative, as well as COVID-19, but those results were pending at the time.

The next day, Teresa's positive COVID-19 test results came back to her parents and when Jeff went to check in on her in her room, he found her unconscious. Teresa was rushed to a local hospital and transferred to Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) Norfolk, where she died.

"Children are getting COVID and they're getting it at schools," Nicole said. "We need to ensure that all protocols that you as a school board are saying that we do are being done. I hate wearing a mask, but I do it because I do not want my kiddos that I teach to get sick."

Nicole has not returned to the classroom since Teresa's death but said when she was teaching, she would make sure all her students were masked properly without calling a single student out, constant use of hand sanitizer and would frequently wipe down high traffic surfaces.

"I explained to my kiddos why we make sure to cover our noses because this is a respiratory illness," she said. "I explained that we breathe through our noses and mouth and that's how it can spread."

During Monday's meeting, Nicole urged the audience to "do everything that we can to protect our children" and set an example for them on how to wear masks properly and show compassion and empathy.

"COVID is real and our wish is that people take it more seriously," she said.

Gone but not forgotten

Though Teresa's funeral service was beautiful yet hard, Nicole said the love and support from people around the world has been overwhelming and has carried them through this difficult time.

"We've heard from several people that are getting their vaccine and taking this more serious because of her story," Nicole said.

Sharing her daughter's story in hopes of changing one person's mind about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 or wearing a mask to protect others was always the goal when The Sperry's first spoke about their family's loss, she said.

Teresa was an avid reader who had an appreciation for the arts, loved drawing, dancing at home, singing and was an active Girl Scout.

"COVID-19 took her away from us as quickly as she started showing symptoms," Nicole wrote in Teresa's obituary. "And her heart that was large enough to care about everyone she met was not strong enough to stay with us."