Marny Xiong, chairwoman of the St. Paul Board of Education, died Sunday of COVID-19, the first elected official in the state and one of the youngest Minnesotans to have been fatally stricken by the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Xiong, 31, had been critically ill for the past month. She was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul with acute breathing distress on May 7, four days after she initially showed symptoms.
She was later transferred to the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, where she spent several weeks in intensive care before her death.
"We prayed and prayed for a miracle but none was granted," her relatives wrote in a statement Sunday on a GoFundMe page set up to help cover her medical expenses.
Xiong is among the five youngest in the state to die from the disease, a Minnesota Department of Health spokesman said Sunday.
"This is a heartbreaking loss for Minnesota," Gov. Tim Walz said in a tribute to Xiong on Twitter. He added, "We know that countless Minnesota families will remember and cherish her lifelong work in and outside the classroom to create a better future for our students."
Xiong was elected to the St. Paul school board in 2017 and became its chairwoman this year. In her first year on the board, she helped promote a referendum, which voters subsequently approved, to provide $18 million in new annual revenue for the district. She also sought to smooth relations between leaders of parent councils and district officials.
This spring, Xiong worked closely and publicly with Superintendent Joe Gothard and others in reaching a settlement that ended a teachers' strike in the St. Paul School District, the state's second-largest at about 37,000 students.
"There are no words that can reflect the loss that we, our school district and our community have suffered," Gothard and the board's vice chairwoman, Jeanelle Foster, wrote on the district's website.
"Those of us who were fortunate to know Marny and work with her have been inspired by her tireless efforts to support our students, fight for inclusion and never give in to those who would divide us," they added.
Toni Carter, who chairs the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, described Xiong as "a steadfast fighter for all our children and families, a standard-bearer for high-quality education, and a dedicated partner for justice and equity. Marny will be deeply missed."
Xiong's father, Zahoua Xiong, was hospitalized in critical condition with the disease. But he improved to the point he could be taken off a ventilator a couple of weeks ago, Amee Xiong, one of his daughters, said in a Facebook posting.
Most Minnesotans who have died from COVID-19 have been more than twice as old as Xiong, a Star Tribune analysis shows. People 60 or older make up more than 90% of the fatalities in the state.
Through Sunday, there were eight confirmed COVID-19 deaths among people 39 and younger reported in Minnesota, out of 1,186 overall since the pandemic arrived in the state several months ago. Of those eight, seven were in their 30s and one in his or her 20s.
A wide range of underlying health conditions, from diabetes to heart disease to uncontrolled asthma, can affect the severity of the illness.
St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao, Xiong's brother-in-law, said she did not smoke and "there are no conditions that we know of" that would have played a role in her death.
Thao, who is Amee Xiong's husband, said Zahoua Xiong has since fully recovered. "We are grateful for the nurses and doctors who helped him out," Thao said.
The family's GoFundMe page explained that Marny Xiong started experiencing COVID-related symptoms on May 3, including exhaustion, loss of taste, fevers and chills.
Xiong grew up on the East Side of St. Paul and attended Longfellow Elementary School, Washington Middle School, and Arlington High School. She graduated in 2007.
She graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2012 and was a school administrative manager at Hmong International Academy in Minneapolis before winning a seat on the St. Paul school board.
"Marny will be remembered as an inspiring community organizer, a courageous leader and fierce champion for education, gender equity and racial justice," the family's statement continued. "She was a selfless public servant who made the community's problems her duty to solve."
Dai Thao said he feels a special sense of kinship with Marny Xiong, given the two were elected as public servants in St. Paul.
"We are very grateful that Minnesota [took] a leap of faith to contribute to this great state and city," he said.
"As a daughter of refugees and a lifelong St. Paul resident, Marny embodied our city's spirit, gave her heart to our students, and worked tirelessly to uplift the voices of the unheard," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said on Twitter.
"Along with so many others whose lives she touched, I am deeply saddened and stand in prayer for Marny's family and loved ones as we grieve together," he added.