‘This virus came right in and took two loved ones’: one family’s Covid grief

In early February, Erika Martinez of Fresno, California, lost her father, Thomas Martinez, 57, and her 33-year-old brother Andrew Martinez Garcia, to Covid-19 within 24 hours of one another.

Erika Martinez first brought her father to the hospital on 2 February, after he started feeling ill and wanted to make sure he was OK as he suffered from an underlying heart condition. He was diagnosed with Covid-19.

Initially Erika Martinez said she was told he was fine. Then her father was transferred to the intensive care unit because his oxygen levels were low and he needed to be intubated. He died on Saturday 6 February at 4.55pm. `

Several hours later, his son Andrew, who he lived with, died about 1am on 7 February.

More than 500,000 Americans have now died of Covid 19. And according to one recent study, for every death, an average of nine relatives are grieving. For Latino families, like the Martinezes, and Black and Native American families, the scale of the tragedy is even worse. They have suffered proportionally higher death rates and are still experiencing lower levels of vaccinations.

For the Martinez family, these losses are something they will never get over.

Andrew lived with his father, Thomas, and the two were very close even though Andrew was not his biological son. Erika Martinez explained her father, Thomas, met her mother when she was six months pregnant with Andrew, but always treated him like his own son. Thomas was a father of four children, including Andrew, and had three granddaughters.

Erika Martinez: ‘Don’t walk around complaining you can’t breathe with a mask. You can’t breathe when you’re six feet under.’
Erika Martinez: ‘Don’t walk around complaining you can’t breathe with a mask. You can’t breathe when you’re six feet under.’ Photograph: Erika Martinez/The Guardian

“My brother was never diagnosed because he wasn’t hospitalized, but because we knew he was sick, we figured he also got the coronavirus, and also my family believed that because him and my dad were so close, he died of a broken heart,” said Erika Martinez.

Though reported Covid-19 cases have declined to about 81,000 cases a day, the lowest average in the US since November 2020, an average of more than 2,000 Americans are dying each day due to the disease. Research by the American Public Media lab found Black, indigenous, Pacific Islander and Latino Americans have a death rate from Covid-19 that is double or more the death rate of white and Asian Americans.

As Americans continue to die from coronavirus, their loved ones are struggling to cope with the sudden losses and the financial impacts, as thousands of families have relied on GoFundMe campaigns to offset funeral and medical expenses.

Erika and her family started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral costs for her father and brother. Because of her brother’s weight, they have to cremate him and are on a waiting list to have that completed because only one facility in the area has the equipment to do it.

“My siblings and I, we’re struggling to put him to rest, and same thing with my dad, we want to give him a proper burial within the coronavirus restrictions,” Martinez noted.

She described her father as “the sweetest person you’d ever meet” and said her brother “was a big guy but had a big heart to match it”.

Erika Martinez said the public needed to still take the coronavirus seriously, amid conspiracy theories and denial about the virus, and the refusal by some people to adhere to safety protections such as wearing masks in public.

“Don’t walk around complaining you can’t breathe with a mask. You can’t breathe when you’re six feet under,” said Martinez. “This virus came, knocked on the door, and just came right in and took two loved ones from us within eight hours of each other.”

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