By Isaac Windes
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick confirmed to The Enterprise Thursday that there was a coronavirus-related death in Hardin County after talking with Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel.
It is the first death in the region, and there were only two cases last-reported in Hardin County, one in Silsbee and one in Lumberton.
Neither could confirm the name of the patient; however Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins told The Enterprise that the victim was a beloved Southeast Texas band director, educator and Symphony of Southeast Texas member.
Michael Westbrook has worked for Lumberton, Port Neches-Groves and Hardin-Jefferson school districts.
“I worked with him when I was the assistant principal at Hardin-Jefferson for 8 years,” said Gretchen Scoggins, communications director at Lumberton ISD. “Everyday with Mike – he is a hilarious bubbly personality, who absolutely adores kids.”
Scoggins, who has been in contact with those close to the Lumberton man, said Westbrook had to be revived early Thursday morning.
“The last thing I said to him was, ‘I love you brother.’ And then I got the call from a mutual close friend to him. At 1 this morning, his heart had stopped. They had done CPR,” she said.
Alex Wells, who is the current band director at Port-Neches Groves said he has known Westbrook since he was in college.
“As a teacher it is our hope that we impact kids’ lives, and I know he has,” Wells said. “He has taught at Lumberton, Hardin-Jefferson and PN-G — he has impacted lives all over Southeast Texas.”
Wells said the case makes the global pandemic much more real for him and the community.
“Before I saw it really as an inconvenience, and now it hits home,” he said. “You don’t just see it on the news anymore, it is now part of your life.”
Hardin County currently has had four patients with coronavirus. Jefferson County has eight, and Orange County has one.
“He always had a joke. He has been a friend for about 15 years. Very dedicated to music both in the public school classroom, and in our community,” Scoggins said. “He’s always willing to help. He is a great guy.”
Scoggins said the last update she received was at 8 a.m., and she was told his organs were failing.
“Our school folks are our families. And we are just hurting because one of our family members is struggling.”
Shelly Vitanza, a spokesperson for Lamar University, said Westbrook was “a grad of LU and a well-liked and respected musician among our faculty.”
In a statement, Hardin-Jefferson ISD said that an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19, but opted not to identify them “out of respect for the privacy of the individual and their family members.”
The district declined to comment further, but said in the release that the individual was on campus on Monday March 16, Tuesday March 17, Thursday March 19 and Friday March 20.
“Any individuals who were present at the high school on those dates should take necessary precautions for their health and safety of themselves and their families,” the statement said.
The district also said they were working with local health department officials to identify and notify those who may have come into contact with the employee.
This is a developing story and will be updated.