The daughter of an unvaccinated county employee in Florida who died after COVID-19 swept through the government office building where she worked says she and her family are steadfast in refusing their shots, even though their mother’s inoculated coworkers did not get sick at all.
“No one in my family will be getting the vaccine,” Molly Hart told The Daily Beast.
Hart’s mom, 58-year-old Mary Knight, passed away last week from complications related to COVID-19, Manatee County authorities announced. An IT customer service supervisor, Knight had worked for the county on and off for 15 years. A second unvaccinated member of the IT department, 53-year-old systems analyst Alphonso Cox, also died last week after coming down with COVID-19. Three others in the office who were unvaccinated and contracted the virus were ill enough to be hospitalized, but survived.
None of their vaccinated coworkers were affected at all, County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes said in a statement.
The county administration building was shut down in the aftermath of the outbreak. It reopened again on Monday, although mask-wearing continues to be optional, said Manatee officials. The County is providing N95 masks for unvaccinated visitors and employees who opt for them, according to authorities.
Hart described Knight, who also taught a computer course at the University of South Florida, as “the most loving, giving, and hardworking person I have ever known.”
“She was beyond intelligent and a quick problem solver,” said Hart. “She did everything for her children and granddaughter. Her customers and students raved about how helpful and kind she was. She had a 5/5 on [online site] Rate My Professors from all her students and only lovely comments about how helpful her courses were.”
Hart also doesn’t believe that COVID-19 was really responsible for killing her mom.
“She was always a busy worker bee,” Hart said. “She didn’t know how to rest and gave her all to everything she did. Stress killed her, not COVID. A healthy body and immune system [do] not need the vaccine.” (This is false, according to public health experts.)
Knight had been dealing with a lot over the past four months, explained Hart: A difficult boss at work, helping to care for her granddaughter while Hart’s husband was on military leave, looking after her youngest son after he was badly injured in an accident, the death of her father, and a painful dispute with her father’s widow over his estate. Knight returned to work on June 1 and immediately got COVID-19, Hart continued.
“She was already so worn down from life that her immune system was so weak and it couldn’t fight off COVID like it needed to,” insisted Hart, a physical therapist in Bradenton.
Hart said Knight had been recovering well and that her death “made no sense at all.”
“It was a freak thing that she died,” she said. “She died the exact same day as my father, who passed one year ago exactly. His depression spiraled out of control due to the forced lockdown.” (The national suicide rate actually decreased last year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.)
Derrick Randall, who runs a community center where Cox had volunteered for the past 25 years as an athletic coach, described him as “a phenomenal human, a humble man.”
“Coach Al would pick up kids at their homes and take them to practice, then take them home again after practice,” Randall told The Daily Beast. “He was just a gentle giant. Trying to fill the void is something that I’m not even going to try to attempt because it can’t be done.”
County Administrator Hopes, who is trained as an epidemiologist, said at a news conference on Monday that he believes the outbreak that killed Knight and Cox could have involved the Delta variant. The strain, which was first identified in India, is significantly more transmissible than past variants and now makes up roughly 10 percent of U.S. COVID cases. However, a new study found two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be 88 percent effective against the Delta variant, and provide as much as 96 percent protection against hospitalization.
About 43 percent of Manatee County residents have been fully vaccinated. In May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed an executive order banning so-called vaccine passports, forbidding businesses to require proof of vaccination from customers, and suspended all statewide mask mandates. He also declared that he would pardon anyone who was punished by Florida counties or municipalities for violating public health restrictions.
“We really need everybody to get onboard with this, whether it’s vaccination testing, prevention, all of it is so, so, so, so important,” Florida Department of Health public information officer Christopher Tittel told FOX13. “The vaccinations, they only work if people get vaccinated.”