LAWRENCE — The Van Buren/Cass District Health Department confirmed Friday a COVID-19 associated death of a Van Buren County student.

It marks the first student death in the fourth surge of the coronavirus in the county, which has largely been driven by the more contagious delta variant.

Danielle Persky, health officer for the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department, told The Herald-Palladium the 18-year-old student was a senior at Decatur High School.

“The death of a local student is a tragic reminder that the numbers we report every week are also our children, friends and neighbors, and that no one is immune to the virus’ impact,” Persky said in a news release. “The best ways to protect ourselves, our loved ones and young children who are not eligible to get the vaccine is to get vaccinated ourselves and wear a mask; small and simple tools that make a great impact.”

This brings the total deaths from COVID-19 in Van Buren and Cass counties to 234.

Persky said the county is seeing younger people hospitalized.

Since the school year began this month, the health department has confirmed 192 COVID-19 cases in children 0-19 across Van Buren and Cass counties.

The health department continues to stress the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing masks in public settings, maintaining 3-6 feet or more of distance between others, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home when sick.

“Our sympathy goes out to all families who have been affected by this deadly virus,” Dr. Larry Wile, medical director at VBCDHD, said in the release. “As a community, we all want this pandemic to be over, to know our families are safe, and to have the restrictions on our social activities lifted. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. The delta variant has proven to be more contagious and more serious than previous variants. We have seen a 25-fold increase since one week after school ended on June 25, 2021, until now.”