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Engineering Student Dies of COVID-19 Symptoms Weeks Before Graduating, Family Says He Was Repeatedly Denied Tests

The death of a Western Michigan University student came as a shock to his family. They say the student, who is of Nigerian descent, was turned away from being tested for COVID-19 before being admitted to a Michigan hospital in grave condition.

Bassey Offiong, 25, was two weeks shy of graduating with a degree in chemical engineering before he fell ill.

Bassey Offiong
Bassey OPffiong, a Western Michigan University student, died from COVID-19 complications after he was denied testing for the virus, family say.

His sister, Asari Offiong, told The Detroit News that her brother — who had no previous health issues — was denied testing for the coronavirus several times before being hospitalized at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, a Detroit suburb.

“I told him to ask them to test him. He said they refused to test him. One medical staffer told him he had bronchitis,” she said. She did not name the health care centers that denied her brother the test.

He spent the last week of his life on a ventilator in the intensive care unit before he died, according to the newspaper.

Although Offiong was not a resident of Kalamazoo County — where WMU is located — and had apparently returned home to the Detroit area by the time he took ill, the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department released a statement acknowledging the young man’s passing.

“We are truly saddened to learn of the death of a Western Michigan University student due to COVID-19,” Jim Rutherford, the health officer at the department, said in a news release this past Sunday. “However, this virus has no borders when it comes to who it affects and how it is spread.”

“I know God has him in his presence,” his sister, Asari, said. “He loved God.”

Offiong was a graduate of Renaissance High School in Detroit. His sister said his dream was to create an organic makeup line with the Loreal company.

“He’s just someone who thinks so big,” she said.

Edward Montgomery, the president of Western Michigan University, said that he was saddened by the news. He offered up condolences to Offiong’s family, stating that the Nigerian-American student had “enormous potential.”

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of our students, Bassey Offiong,” he said. “He was a young man of enormous potential. … On behalf of the entire Bronco community, I want to extend my deepest condolences to his entire family, including his sister Asari, who has been generous in communicating with us regularly. They are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Offiong is thought to have been one of three students who tested positive for the virus last week. Classmates and staff, along with those who had been in close contact with the students, were notified, according to The Detroit News.

“The school and its health facility urged against self-diagnosing as it is beginning to strain our care providers and other personnel,” the newspaper reported.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, there had been 6,498 cases and 259 deaths reported in Michigan.

On March 23 Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order directing all Michigan businesses and operations to temporarily suspend in-person operations that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.

The order mandates that residents stay in their homes unless they’re a part of that critical infrastructure workforce, engaged in an outdoor activity, or performing tasks necessary to the health and safety of themselves or their family, like going to a hospital or grocery store.

Michigan congressman Fred Upton reacted to the news on Sunday on Facebook:

” I woke up this Sunday morning to the sad news of a WMU Engineering student who passed away with coronavirus,” he said. “He had a ventilator and, likely, other members of his immediate family are also impacted along with perhaps his roommates at WMU.”

“Our condolences are with them,” he added. “And yes, the sad reality is we will all soon know folks who are infected or die of this pandemic.”

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