Family Mourns Loss of Mother to Coronavirus as Hospitals Report Increase in COVID-19 Patients

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COVID-19 hospitalizations in Dallas County this week reached a mark not seen since early August, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, coronavirus-related deaths in Dallas County climbed past 1,140 on Friday. That number now includes Ofelia Hernandez, who was hospitalized three weeks ago after she contracted COVID-19.

The 46-year old cancer survivor was known as "La Guerrera," or "the warrior" in Spanish. She had other underlying health conditions, including asthma.

“You go in there thinking that you’re going to be OK and at the end of the day you’re not. You’re not,” her daughter Merlyn Gandara said through tears. “You come out of there in a box. In a box. Because that’s how we’re going to get my mom. In a box.”

Hernandez died Tuesday night at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. Her daughter and family could only watch her final moments on their cell phones.

“With COVID-19 you can’t hold them. You can’t be near them. You’re literally dying alone, and people don’t understand that,” Gandara said. “It’s the worst experience, the worst experience ever.”

Ofelia Hernandez, second from right, surrounded by loved ones

Coronavirus hospitalizations have soared at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

The hospital reported it had about 30 COVID-19 patients in September. That number is now 114 patients -- a nearly 300% increase.

“The problem is that because we’ve been doing this, for now, seven, eight months the public is really tired, really tired of hearing about it. Really tired of talking about it and so there’s a good portion of the population that doesn’t care anymore,” Parkland Health and Hospital System chief medical officer Dr. Joseph Chang said.

The number of cases in Dallas County is increasing, leading to concern and frustration for frontline workers as colder weather and so-called "COVID-19 fatigue" sets in.

“I guarantee you I’m more tired than the rest of you,” Chang said. “I go home and I hear about it just like you do and I talk about it just like you do but then I’m here every day 10 hours a day, talking about it. COVID doesn’t care if you’re tired. COVID doesn’t care that I’m tired. It’s going to do what it does so it’s up to us to stop it. COVID's not going to stop itself.”

Chang said he was especially concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 cases among those in their 20s and school-aged children who have been quarantined from school.

“They can’t go to school, oh but [parents] are going to let go do all their other activities. Go to church, go to sports, go to friends’ houses. That’s not what quarantine means. Quarantine means stay at home,” he said. “And a lot of our young families are not paying attention to that anymore.”

Chang admitted the emotional toll of the pandemic continued to chip away at frontline workers.

“We have doctors and nurses who, on their break working 12-hour shifts, they’ll go into the breakroom and cry. Not an exaggeration,” he said. “They cry from the pressure and the fatigue and then when they’re done, they wipe their eyes and they put their PPP and they do it again.”

Chang urged people to follow safety measures closely: frequently washing your hands, wearing a mask, keeping any gatherings small and outside.

“We always take prayers, we always take thoughts, but the way to physically help us is to stay out of the hospital,” he said. “The way to do that is to do what we’ve asked: wear your mask, keep your group small, stay outside if possible.”

Hernandez’s family is asking the same of the community, hoping to spare others their pain.

“Right before she passed, she told everybody: make sure you take care of my mom. Make sure you take care of my grandkids because I don’t want them to go through this,” Gandara said. “You can lose everything in a couple of weeks. We did. We did. We lost my mom.”

The family started a fundraiser to help with unexpected costs. To help, click here.

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