Hailey Hurst spent the past year working hard to protect her fellow Tuolumne County residents from COVID-19, only to have her own life cut short by the deadly virus last Friday.
The 33-year-old worked for the county Health and Human Services Agency, where she conducted COVID-19 contact investigations and recently received a promotion that she was supposed to start just five days before her untimely death.
“Hailey was the epitome of a public servant,” said her boss, county Health and Human Services Director Rebecca Espino.
Hurst was also a single mother who lived in Twain Harte with her two boys, Logan Robinson, 10, and William Robinson, 9. They are devastated and still processing the loss, said their grandmother and Hailey’s mom, Betsy Hurst, who serves as president of the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors.
Hailey Hurst was also healthy and fully vaccinated — she was among the first groups to get the jab in January as an essential worker — and followed all COVID-19 safety precautions in an effort to protect herself, her kids and her community.
“She always wore a mask and had a whole wardrobe of masks,” Betsy Hurst said.
Betsy Hurst said her daughter tested positive on Aug. 16 after it’s believed she was exposed to the virus at work, where she was also an eligibility worker who helped people enroll for programs.
Hailey Hurst quarantined herself immediately to protect her sons because they were too young to get vaccinated. Her mother said she at first was experiencing cold symptoms and feeling exhausted.
“It seemed like she was getting better and was planning on going and starting her new job that Monday (Aug. 30),” Betsy Hurst said. “Instead, she started feeling tired and was going to stay home and get more sleep.”
Betsy Hurst said her daughter began hallucinating the night of Aug. 31 and called her sons’ father, Nick Robinson, of Twain Harte, the following morning.
Nick Robinson called 911 on the morning of Sept. 1 due to Hailey Hurst’s worsening condition. She was taken by ambulance to Adventist Health Sonora, where it was determined that she was suffering from organ failure due to the toll the virus had taken on her body.
The hospital staff wanted to transfer her to another place with a specialist, but Betsy Hurst said they were unable to find one with room for her due to the current COVID-19 surge that’s being driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
Most of the new cases and hospitalizations throughout the region, state and country are people who are unvaccinated.
“They tried over 30 hospitals, and no one had a bed available because of COVID,” Betsy Hurst said, adding they started giving them contacts for hospitals they knew of outside of the state.
Hailey Hurst was at Adventist Health Sonora for a whole day before Stanford University Medical Center called to say a bed was available for her in its intensive care unit and sent a helicopter to pick her up and transport her.
“We thought a miracle had happened,” Betsy Hurst said.
Betsy Hurst said a doctor at Stanford called her at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, and said they were doing everything they could for her daughter but couldn’t guarantee they would be able to save her.
At 3:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 3, Betsy Hurst said she woke up for some reason and decided to call the hospital.
“I talked to a doctor who said if we wanted to come, we should come now, because he wasn’t sure how much longer they could keep her alive,” Betsy Hurst said.
Betsy Hurst, Nick Robinson and Hailey’s sister, Kameron Hurst, went together and had to go through screenings, fill out paperwork, and show proof they were fully vaccinated before being allowed in to see her.
They were holding Hailey Hurst’s hand as she passed away at 8:32 a.m., Friday, Sept. 3.
Such instances of people who are fully vaccinated getting severly ill or dying from COVID-19 have been extremely rare, but medical professionals have said from the beginning that no vaccine is 100% effective all the time.
Another issue is that more fully vaccinated people are testing positive now in areas with low vaccination rates, such as Tuolumne County, where less than half of the total population has gotten the shot.
Betsy Hurst believes her daughter might still be alive if more people in the community took COVID-19 seriously by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and following other COVID-19 safety measures.
“I don’t want any other parent to have to go through what I’m going through right now,” Betsy Hurst said. “I want people to realize that COVID is serious. It doesn’t pick and choose. It could happen to anybody.”
Betsy Hurst described her daughter as a strong-willed person who spoke her mind and enjoyed helping other people, which was one reason why she liked her job with the county.
Hailey Hurst’s left arm was paralyzed from nerve damage she suffered at birth, though her mother says most wouldn’t know it because she was able to compensate well for the lack of movement.
Outside of work, Hailey Hurst also liked to help others through volunteering at Nancy’s Hope in Columbia. During the Butte Fire in 2015, she helped cook dinner for more than 400 firefighters and victims of the blaze at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“She was always really creative and loved to cook,” Betsy Hurst said.
Hailey Hurst’s brother, John “Jake” Hurst, started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for her children and pay for the medical expenses, including the helicopter flight that Betsy Hurst is doubtful will be covered by their insurance.
More than 230 people had donated a total of about $30,000 to the fundraiser as of Thursday.
Hailey Hurst’s colleagues at the county are also mourning her loss, with Espino referencing her during a recent speech to the county Board of Supervisors pleading for more in the community to unite in the battle against COVID-19.
Espino said in an email on Thursday that when she sent an email to all of the agency’s staff during a deadly surge late last year asking for help with contact tracing, Hailey Hurst immediately took action and volunteered to work overtime on weekends for months.
“Hailey had a smile that was infectious and a heart for those she served,” Espino wrote. “Her office was a few doors down from mine, and she made it a point to check in and chat with me about her day. I will miss her and so will this community.”
When asked what lessons the community should take from the loss, County Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko said he wants everyone to ask themselves what they could have done to prevent this death “rather than diminishing a person to a statistic by attributing their death to an underlying cause.”
Michelle Jachetta, the county public health director, echoed Espino’s sentiments about working with Hailey Hurst and said each person can help stem the disease’s spread by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in crowds and other high-risk settings, frequently washing their hands and, most importantly, staying home and getting tested if they feel sick.
“All of these layers of protection work together to help reduce or eliminate the spread of the virus and its many impacts to our community,” she said.
To contribute to the GoFundMe for Hailey Hurst’s children, go online to https://gofund.me/7357d09c.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 768-5175.