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Beloved high school band director dies from COVID-19, one of first deaths in Southeast Texas

"The entire HJ community is heartbroken," school district tweets

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Texas — Longtime Southeast Texas band director Mike Westbrook has died after contracting COVID-19.

Hardin-Jefferson High School remembered Westbrook, who has led the Big Blue Machine for 13 years, in a lengthy tweet Thursday afternoon. 

"(Mike) was known for his jolly demeanor and was always ready to tell a good joke," HJISD said in a tweet. "He had worked tirelessly to revive our music program at HJ and had accomplished much success on the field and stage."

Area coaches and band directors have posted their condolences on private Facebook pages. Many describe Westbrook as an energetic and fun-loving guy. 

"He was always an advocate for the students. Mike was not afraid to speak his mind when it came to giving his students th best learning environment possible. He set high expectations for his students but gave them endless encouragement to guide them in their pursuit.

Westbrook has worked for Lumberton, Port Neches-Groves and Hardin-Jefferson school districts. 

"The entire HJ community is heartbroken, especially Mike's students. We ask that you give his family the privacy they need, and please keep them in your prayers."

Westbrook was also a member of the Symphony of Southeast Texas. The organization posted on their Facebook page that Westbrook, a member of the trumpet section for over 30 years, passed away. 

"My heart has just been broken and saddened all afternoon.” Chelsea Tipton, SOST director, told 12News. "“We have that common bond of art and music. When we lose one, it affects all of us deeply. Please lift his family in prayer as they are dealing with this tremendous loss, and may he rest in eternal peace and comfort in heaven."

Hardin-Jefferson ISD said that Westbrook was last on the high school campus on March 20th. 

"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 district said in the news release. 

HJISD says they are cooperating with the local health department and is assisting in identifying any individuals who may have come into contact with this employee in recent days. 

"Those individuals will be notified so that they can take the necessary precautions for the health and safety of themselves and their families."

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Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, the CDC says.

These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath


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