Cody Whobrey of Newburgh, Ind., was nine years his sister’s junior, but the two had a close relationship growing up and spent many an hour playing together in their backyard. Lacey Poag lost her little brother to the COVID-19 virus in April. Whobrey is among a growing number of younger victims of the coronavirus in 2020. (Photo: DENNY SIMMONS / COURIER & PRESS)
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Morgan Castillo straight-up didn’t believe the man who told her that her employee, 33-year-old Cody Whobrey, had died.
Castillo, owner of Newburgh restaurant The Tin Fish, was out delivering food during her restaurant’s shut down in April. Whobrey was a cook at The Tin Fish, but he and other employees had been temporarily laid off in the wake of the then-still new COVID-19 pandemic. One of Whobrey’s neighbors drove into the apartment complex where they lived and delivered the news.
“Shocked,” Castillo said, describing her reaction. “I did a few diggings with some people that I knew who could give me a concrete answer, because honestly, I didn’t believe the gentleman. At all.
“I just couldn’t believe it.”
It ended up being a cautionary tale. Warrick County Coroner Sarah Seaton ruled three weeks later that Whobrey’s death was presumptively caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Toxicology tests and a coroner’s investigation concluded, given Whobrey’s symptoms, there was no other explanation for his death.
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“He’d been sick for over a week with classic COVID symptoms and expressed to his family he was afraid that’s what he had, but they couldn’t convince him to go to the hospital — and then he was found deceased in his home,” Seaton said then.
The coroner confirmed that Friday, saying by text that Whobrey’s family “begged him to get tested,” according to text messages they made available to her office.
Whobrey’s sister, Lacey Poag, said the family did urge him to get tested, but not until his final day, when his sickness took a turn for the worse. Poag said she hopes her brother’s death will resonate with people who still don’t take COVID-19 more seriously.
“If they’ve been exposed, be tested,” she said.
Cody Whobrey would become one of the rarest victims of COVID-19 — young adults. People in the primes of their lives. It just doesn’t happen. Until it does. CDC guidance stated this month that eight of every 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have occurred among people aged 65 and older.
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Marivel Mora (Photo: Legacy.com)
It happened to Marivel Mora, too. Evansville resident Mora was just 35 when she died on Aug. 31 with a COVID-19 infection and hypoxic respiratory failure, according to death records. She is the youngest Vanderburgh County resident to die in the pandemic.
Members of Mora’s family did not respond to Facebook messages about the former Fairmont City, Illinois, resident, but a memorial page for her describes her as a “homemaker who loved caring for her four children.” She left behind a husband, too.
“Rest in paradise sis I love u and will always miss u!” one of Mora’s five brothers posted on Facebook.
“I learned a lot while she was in my presence she always said (quit worrying about everybody else worried about you don’t never Force someone in your life that don’t want to be there enjoy life while you have it) and I’m going to keep doing what you told me always be a sister that will never change!!!!!!!” stated a post on another brother’s page.
‘No health issues at all. Healthy young man’
Lacey Poag was purposeful in the way she wrote her little brother’s obituary.
“Cody Tyler Whobrey passed away from the Coronavirus on April 15, 2020,” it states right there in the first line.
“At that time there were people who were just not understanding that this is real,” Poag said. “This is not a political thing. It’s nothing to play around with. People are losing their lives, and people are losing their family members.
“I just wanted it to be clear and for it to be known. If it would help one family to do the right thing, whether that be to wear a mask or to get someone to the doctor, it was worth it to me to expose our family in some way.”
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Cody Whobrey was unmarried. He had a 6-year-old son.
Older than Cody by nearly 10 years, Lacey always took care of him. She changed Cody’s diapers, rocked him to sleep, cleaned and bandaged him up after his many skateboard accidents. She walked through life with him, she said. She and her husband were the ones who found him the day he died.
“No health issues at all. Healthy young man,” Lacey said.
Having worked as a restaurant cook for more than a decade, Cody dreamed of opening up his own food truck and expanding it into a food truck community. Lacey said he had the personality to be the public face of such an enterprise — effervescent, light, fun.
That’s the Cody Whobrey Castillo remembers, too. Cody may have been a cook, the Tin Fish owner said, but he cheerfully dove into whatever task was asked of him. Friendly, likable, blessed with the gift of gab, he drew people to him.
“We had compliments all the time from our customers that would pull me aside or pull our general manager aside to compliment him,” Castillo said. “He was definitely a people person. He was just the nicest gentleman. We do miss him.”
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By the day Cody died, he had been at loose ends for weeks.
Uncertain whether he had a future with The Tin Fish, Cody was contemplating his next career move, Lacey said. Family members were quarantined, so they weren’t seeing each other. Cody’s son wasn’t with him because he was being quarantined.
Cody Tyler Whobrey (Photo: Provided)
But Lacey and Cody and their mother were in close touch by text and phone.
“His main thing was, he was just very worn down,” Lacey said. “But until the day that he passed, it did not seem to be a major illness or that he was even bad enough that he needed to see a doctor. The whole time he had been like, ‘Sis, I’m not really that bad, I’m just worn down. I think a lot of it is not working right now, being off work. And just, I’m off my schedule.’”
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On April 15, Cody told his sister he felt worse than ever.
“He said, ‘Sis, I do feel way worse today. I really feel bad. I’m going to take a nap, and then after the nap, I’m going to go to urgent care or something and see what’s going on and see if I need some medicine or something,'” Lacey said.
“And then he didn’t wake up.”
When Cody didn’t return Lacey’s calls or texts, she and her husband went to check on him. He didn’t answer the door.
Death and COVID-19: Age matters
Lacey Poag’s willingness to make sure people know her brother died of COVID-19 is a reminder that it can happen at his relatively tender age. It can happen if warnings are not heeded. It can happen with pre-existing conditions. It can happen if you’re just unlucky.
It hasn’t happened much, though — not yet.
A study of Indiana residents conducted in April and published this month reported that for infected people under 40 years old, coronavirus-related death occurred in only about one in 10,000 – a death rate of 0.01%.
COVID-19 is hundreds of times more lethal for people over age 60 than for people under 40, stated the study conducted by Dr. Nir Menachemi, a professor of health policy and management at Indiana University. Menachemi led a team of researchers at IU in partnership with the Indiana State Health Department. The study found age is the biggest factor affecting the death rate:
- For people 60 and older, one in every 58 infections resulted in death, for a death rate of 1.7%.
- For adults between 40 and 59, the death rate was 0.12% – or one death for every 833 infections.
- For infected people under 40 years old, death occurred in only about one in 10,000 – a death rate of 0.01%.
In a comparison of COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates by age group, the CDC reported in August that the death rate for people ages 30-39 was four times as high as the rate 18-29-year-olds. It sounds like a lot — until you consider that the death rate for people 65-74 years old is 90 times higher. People 75-84? Their death rate is 220 times higher. At 85 and older, it’s 630 times higher.
A meaning to a death
From boyhood onward, Cody Whobrey made funny homemade movies with his friends — at first with a huge, bulky camcorder loaded with videotape and later with an iPhone.
Their movies bespoke the rituals of boyhood — bicycle stunts, ninja and kung fu skits with costumes. Silliness. Sometimes it was just Cody offering his sarcastic and hilarious take on whatever subject crossed his mind. He had some comic timing, Lacey said.
Cody expressed a desire to go to film school and learn to be a director one day, but it never happened.
“It still was in the back of his mind. You know, ‘Maybe someday I’ll go to film school,’ but it was just the means to get there wasn’t there, so he really dove into restaurant work and being a chef,” Lacey said.
Lacey’s 13-year-old son also is into filmmaking with pals, so much so that he rhapsodizes about favorite directors, camera angles, lighting and experimental film. He’s intense about it, Lacey said.
“He’s like a 43-year-old 13-year-old,” she said with a laugh.
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But it brought her son and Cody together. Last Christmas, the two sealed a deal: They would start making films together.
But those dreams were cut short.
One of Cody’s final videos, shot perhaps a month before his death, showed him with his young son playing on a playground. Lacey said Cody was playfully mimicking his son — energetically clowning, running, climbing monkey bars, plunging down slides head first.
That’s the way Lacey wants to remember her younger brother.
“Enjoying life,” she said. “Wherever he was, he made the most of that time and was extremely present.”
Lacey desperately hopes Cody’s death at 33 will not be in vain. She struggled to find the words to convey that hope, falling back on warnings that are familiar to all Americans but still as important as ever.
“Wear a mask,” she said. “Social distance.”
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