NBC 5 Investigates has learned more about what happened in the excruciating hours leading up to the death of a DFW Envoy Airlines ground crew member, one of more than two dozen ramp workers at Envoy and its parent company American Airlines who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the union that represents the ramp workers.
In an exclusive report, NBC 5 Investigates revealed how the 2019 novel coronavirus has hit hard at Fort Worth-based American Airlines and its regional carrier Envoy. At least one ramp worker has died from the virus, 30 are sick and at least two dozen more are still waiting for test results, according to union officials.
The longtime girlfriend of another worker who is believed to have died from the virus told NBC 5 Investigates about the pain felt by her and her family, and the questions they have over why the virus so viciously attacked him and his fellow crew members – the men and women who load and unload luggage and clean the planes at the airport.
“He’s very sweet. He’s such a loving person. He’s a very loving person,” said Ejit Guevarra, speaking in the present as if Glenmar Gabriel were still with her.
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Gabriel, 37, a 15-year veteran ramp worker who cleaned planes at Envoy may become the second virus-related death, depending on the outcome of an autopsy conducted in Tarrant County.
His family said they were told it could take 90 days to receive a ruling on his cause of his death. But they know one thing for sure, these test results received one day after his death confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19.
The report was jarring, with words in red jumping from the page – Overall results: Detected! … Positive! …for SARS-COV-2 … Positive! … for PAN-SARS…
Speaking from the Philippines, where she was visiting family, Guevarra said Gabriel was tested for the virus at the end of March, after developing a fever and telling his doctor that some of his co-workers at Envoy had tested positive.
She said he stayed home, waiting for results, and then seemed to improve before developing a cough – a raspy sound Guevarra could hear over the phone, a half-world away.
“I even asked him to mute his microphone because everybody could hear him coughing,” she said.
Guevarra tried to call him the next morning.
He didn’t answer.
Later, paramedics found him dead inside his apartment.
There’s no way to know for sure how or where Gabriel and his co-workers were infected with COVID-19. But Guevarra said she and his family at least want to know whether the virus is what caused his death, as they suspect.
“I haven’t slept since. It’s been more than a week already, but I haven’t slept properly,” she said.
A spokesperson for American Airlines and Envoy said the company would not comment on the number of sick ground crew members. But, in a statement, the company said “the safety of our customers and team members remains our top priority …”
Two of Gabriel’s co-workers, including one who nearly died from the virus, told NBC 5 Investigates they feel American and Envoy could have done more to protect them.
She said that when her boyfriend began feeling sick, “he had to find his own mask. He had to ask a friend that evening (for a) mask.”
“He had gloves because he’s assigned to the cabin which means he has to clean the plane,” Guevarra added.
Gabriel died April 5, one day after Fort Worth-based American Airlines announced it would start providing masks to all front-line workers, following new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC and American should have acted quicker, said Gary Peterson, vice president of the Transport Workers Union.
“We need to be looked at in a different manner if we’re going to be put on the front lines with the health care workers…" Peterson said. “Let’s not take anything away from them. We just need to be at the same level of consideration as they’re in right now."
In a statement to NBC 5 Investigates, Envoy said:
"The safety of our customers and team members remains our top priority. We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials and will continue to coordinate with them on any required health and safety related measures."
Envoy and American Airlines also said they have expanded cleaning measures to protect employees and, since the middle of March, have taken steps to keep workers separated at a safer distance.
Meanwhile, Glenmar Gabriel’s family is still trying to comprehend what happened, even as they held a memorial to celebrate his life.
“I still cannot accept it,” Guevarra said.
His mother, Maria Bella Torres, is also struggling.
“He should have had protection …,” Torres said in a phone interview, from her home in Canada.
She said she’ll always question whether more could have been done to protect her son, and his co-workers, from COVID-19.
It’s a question, Torres said she realized, that may never be answered.