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Family of first person to die from COVID-19-related causes in Monroe County speaks out

Deanna Dewberry
Updated: March 18, 2020 08:44 AM
Created: March 17, 2020 10:33 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The first Monroe County man to die from COVID-19-related causes was a 54-year-old employee at Rochester General Hospital. His family first told us of his death, and health officials confirmed it to News10NBC. 

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They say he was a father of two, a brother, and a son who loved life and adored his big family.

Now the family is struggling to come to grips with his death.

Alvin Simmons's family says he started his new housekeeping job at RGH less than three weeks ago. They say he loved the new job, but his family says it was at work that the first troubling symptoms appeared. It was last Tuesday.

"He started off with coughing really bad it was hurting his chest,” Shonda Williams, a young woman who calls herself his stepdaughter said. “So he stopped smoking Black and Mild [cigars] because he thought it was the Black and Milds causing his cough."

Simmons, a cigar smoker, suspected this was more than a smoker's cough.

His sister, Michelle Wilcox, says the next day he went to the RGH emergency room.

She says they tested him for coronavirus and diagnosed him with pneumonia and sent him home with antibiotics. 

She talked to him Friday, and while he still had a painful cough, he thought he was getting better. On that same day, however, his girlfriend had to call an ambulance. He immediately was put on a ventilator.

Simmons’ family describes symptoms indicative of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a condition seen in the most serious COVID-19 cases. The patient's fluid-filled lungs are no longer able to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream and vital organs.

"They called us on about 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and told us he was brain dead and he had tested positive for the coronavirus,” Wilcox said.

It was a decline so fast, so devastating, the family is still in shock. And perhaps most difficult for them is the fact that the virus is so contagious, they weren't allowed to be in the room to say goodbye.

"He died alone," Wilcox said tearfully. "No one was able to see him, be around him, touch him. He died alone. He didn't deserve that."

Now the family and the rest of us are left with so many questions.

How did he contract the virus? Who did he expose to it? Could patients at the hospital have been exposed? 

Family members told News10NBC that several of them are showing symptoms. They're waiting for test results, and we'll keep working to get you answers.


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