A Rochester, New York, man suffered the first coronavirus-related death in the western New York district of Monroe County, less than a week after the city announced its first confirmed case.
Now the victim’s family is urging others to stay vigilant and take the pandemic seriously.
Alvin Simmons passed away on March 17 at Rochester General Hospital not long after contracting the fast-spreading virus, which has sickened more than 15,000 across the U.S. He was 54 years old.
Simmons, who was a hospital employee, also had underlying health issues that contributed to his death, public health officials said.
“The patient was hospitalized March 14 with fever and acute respiratory symptoms and subsequently tested positive…,” according to a hospital statement provided to local station WROC-TV. “The patient was a 54-year old male with multiple, serious underlying conditions, including hypertension, liver disease, and tobacco use.”
Simmons’ relatives are still grappling the sudden loss, and say they barely had the chance to say their final goodbyes.
“We couldn’t even see him,” his sister, Michelle Wilcox, told the station. “We saw him today after they pulled the plug on him. By video conference.”
“I want everybody to know that it’s real; please just self-quarantine yourself,” she added. “Do what you got to do. Don’t go out here.”
Family members said Simmons’ symptoms developed rather quickly. He fell ill Tuesday, March 10, and sought treatment at the hospital the next day. There, doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia, gave him antibiotics and screened him for the novel virus.
By Friday, he was vomiting blood and suffered a stroke. Simmons was placed on life support and died the next Tuesday morning.
“It’s not a joke, please be out here safe,” Wilcox warned through tears. “Wash your hands, hand sanitize, do the self-distancing. It’s not a joke.”
The grieving sister remembered the Army veteran and father of two as a selfless individual who “loved everybody.”
According to NPR’s tracking map, by March 20 there were more than 15,000 confirmed cases of the disease in the U.S. and 200 reported deaths. Cities across the nation since have ordered the closings of bars, restaurants and non-essential retailers in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
This week, President Donald Trump also warned against gatherings of 10 or more persons, with public health officials urging the public to continue practicing social distancing.
Watch more in the video below.