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‘Life of the school’: Livingstone College remembers student who died from COVID-19

SALISBURY — Jamesha Waddell had a smile you couldn’t miss.

More often than not, she was smiling, even if she was just walking to class. She was warm-hearted and never seemed to be sad, recalled classmate and Livingstone College Student Body President Carlee Patterson, who often called her “Ms. Waddell.”

She was “the life of the school,” recalled Patterson, who shared classes in their major, criminal justice, with Waddell.

Waddell, a 23-year-old originally from Columbus County, died Thursday after testing positive for COVID-19, the college said. Anthony J. Davis, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Livingstone College, said Waddell tested positive for the coronavirus after leaving campus in mid-September.

While isolating at home, her condition worsened. She was hospitalized and placed in intensive care.

The school held a news conference Friday for faculty, staff and students to discuss Waddell’s life and her passing. Earlier in the day, students held a balloon release event at the blue bear statue at the front of campus.

“Obviously, she was well-known and loved,” Davis said. “To know her was to love her. She was someone who would light up a room.”

Jamesha Waddell

Waddell is one of fewer than 20 positive cases the school has identified, said Davis, who is leading the school’s COVID-19 response. There were just two active COVID-19 cases associated with the school on Friday.

Livingstone College President Jimmy Jenkins said he was devastated by Waddell’s death because he considers all students on campus to be his children and that the college is committed to creating “the safest learning environment,” particularly in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the school opened in September, all students were tested. College officials said Friday they committed to taking “aggressive steps” to combat COVID-19 because Black Americans have disproportionately been the victims of more severe cases.

“We must take every precaution we can to protect ourselves,” Jenkins said.

Roughly 22.2% of North Carolinians are black or African American, according to the U.S. Census. But 29% of COVID-19 deaths in the state are Black or African American, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The most recent data for hospitalizations in the state shows a similar trend, with 28% of new hospital admissions from last being being Black or African American North Carolinians.

Autumnreign Bush, Livingstone senior class president, said her classmate’s death proves that people in younger age ranges are vulnerable, too. Waddell was Bush’s resident assistant when she was a freshman.

“We’re definitely taking it as a learning lesson,” Bush said. “It’s just a reiteration of how detrimental it can really be. … It’s surreal for someone to just be there and then not to be there just suddenly.”

Patterson said on Friday that she was pulling her mask a little tighter and making sure to cover her nose.

“A lot of us thought that, ‘We’re young and we don’t have any sicknesses or health issues. It’s very unlikely for us to get it,’ ” she said. “For my classmate who also was my age and was also known as a very healthy girl, for her to pass away from it, is definitely a reminder that it’s not just older people who can get it … We can contract it, too, and it can be as detrimental as it is to those age brackets as well.”

Patterson said that the local chapter of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, sent flowers to Waddell, who wasn’t a member but was friends with many in the organization. There will be a virtual memorial held via Zoom and a candlelight memorial event on Monday, she said.

The balloon release Friday, Patterson said, was organized to keep Waddell on campus.

“Her body may not still be here, but her spirit and her soul is,” she said.

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