The Obra family
Jasmine Obra believed that if it were not for her brother Joshua, she would not exist. When 7-year-old Josh realized that his parents were not going to live forever, he asked a brother to never be alone.
In the spring of 2020, at the age of 29 and 21, Josh and Jasmine shared condominiums in Anaheim, California, not far from Disneyland, which they loved so much.
Both worked in an enclosed nursing facility with 147 beds that specialized in caring for the elderly with cognitive problems such as Alzheimer’s, where Jasmine, a nursing student, was tutored by Josh, a registered nurse.
Both were tested for COVID-19 on the same day in June.
Both tests came back positive.
But only one of them survived.
While COVID-19 carries a much more deadly weight in the elderly than in young adults, an investigation into the deaths of front-line health workers by Kaiser Health News and the Guardian has uncovered numerous occasions when staff members under 30 years were exposed to work. and also succumbed.
Among the 167 confirmed deaths of front-line workers, investigated journalists, 21 medical employees, or 13% of the total, were under the age of 40, and eight (5%) fatalities were under the age of 30. The average age of a death for COVID-19 in general. the population is 78, while the average age of death of health workers in the database is 57. This is partly because journalists only included people of working age who were treating patients during the pandemic, but it is also because, as health workers, they are much more exposed to the virus.
Young health care workers are at a “stage in their careers and at a stage in their lives that has a lot more to offer,” says Andrew Chan, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. “Lost lives among young people related to COVID should be considered something that is unacceptable to us as a society,” he adds.
As coronavirus cases increase, and there is a shortage of life-saving protective equipment such as N95 masks, suits, and gloves, the country’s health workers run a disproportionate risk. Chan’s research has found that health workers of any age are at least three times more likely to become infected than the general population and the risk is higher if they are people of color or have to work without proper personal protective equipment. People of color are also more likely to have inadequate access to PPE.
In interviews, relatives and friends of these younger victims described a particular and disturbing pain. Everything was planned for these front-line workers. They have just started their careers. Some still lived in the family home; others wanted to get married or have small children. Several parents of victims contacted by the guardian and KHN said they simply were not able to talk about what had happened, so their grief was immense.
Valeria Viveros, a 20-year-old nursing assistant, “barely blossomed,” says her uncle, Gustavo Urrea. She made ceviche for her patients at a nursing home in Riverside, California, and Urrea could see her visibly growing in self-confidence. When she fell ill with the virus, she went to the hospital but was sent home with Tylenol. He returned several days later in an ambulance: his last trip.
“We’re all destroyed,” Urrea says. “I can’t even believe it.”
Dulce Garcia, 29, a performer at a medical facility in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, died in May. “It just doesn’t feel real,” says friend Brittany Mathis. Garcia wasn’t the one who let friends drive if they drank too many drinks, and he loved going out dancing bachata, meringue, and reggaeton. “There were so many things I had finished,” Mathis says.
While people of any age with underlying conditions such as diabetes and obesity have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, the particular impacts of the virus in young adults are now only becoming clear.
New York doctors realized that there were more younger patients than usual with strokes, to the point that “the average age of our patients with large vessel strokes,” the most devastating type, “It’s gone down,” says Thomas Oxley, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Medical System. COVID-19 infections cause inflammation, and often blood clots, in both blood vessels and lungs.
“It’s too much to think about”
Angela Padula thought she and Dennis Bradt had done everything right.
Padula, 27, and Bradt, 29, set to work on Feb. 8. She was a special education teacher and was an addiction technician at Conifer Park, a private addiction treatment facility in Glenville, New York.
The couple wanted to save a few years for their wedding, but by early April they had already bought their engagement and wedding rings. Bradt, who had the sweetest tooth, had chosen a raspberry raspberry wedding cake.
After the pandemic hit, Bradt started showering when he got home from work. He and Padula wore masks when they went out, which were usually only for groceries or gas. They stopped visiting their immunocompromised parents.
On April 5, Bradt encountered fever, symptoms of upset stomach and pain, and went to the hospital. His COVID-19 test turned negative. Soon he could not breathe. Another test was positive. On April 16 he was put on a fan. In the process, he suffocated his own vomit, which caused his lung to collapse.
Padula assumes Bradt was infected at work and doesn’t know if he had enough PPE. Conifer Park did not respond to inquiries, but according to local health authorities, 12 employees and six patients at the facility tested positive for COVID-19. Padula herself had such severe symptoms that she was taken to the emergency room in an ambulance.
She was not allowed to visit Bradt and was in quarantine alone at home, where she spent her 28th birthday, taking an anti-anxiety medication prescribed by her doctor.
On May 13, when doctors tried to lower Bradt from the ventilator, he suffered a heart attack, according to Padula. She and Bradt’s mother said goodbye to him. But “it happened when we arrived,” Padula said in an interview. “He didn’t look like himself,” he thickened and appeared with tubes.
Today Padula is still ill. The pain in her arms, legs and back wakes her up at night. She feels as if the virus has taken over her life.
“I give my days where it’s too much to think about,” he says. “You’ll see people engaging on Facebook; it drives me crazy. I want to be happy for them, but it’s very hard for them to be happy. We planned to have kids in a couple of years.”
“I’m sorry he was with me”
Less than two months before Josh and Jasmine Obra got sick, Josh posted two photos on Instagram: one was a photo of a fireworks display at Disneyland; the other was an image of himself in medical bushes, wearing a face mask, giving the sign of peace.
“Heeeeeyo! It’s been a minute,” he wrote in the caption. “It’s been a tough month for all of us.” He worked with a vulnerable population, he said, and “it’s only mentally exhausting to think every night when I get home that he might have symptoms the next day.”
Still, Josh was the kind of empathetic, helpful nurse who “makes things easier for everyone,” says partner Sarah Depayso. He knew how to talk to patients and was adapted to the stress levels of others. “We were so busy, and it was ‘I’ll buy you lunch, I’ll buy you dinner, I’ll buy you the fool.’
It’s been about 35 days since Disneyland closed its doors, Josh noted in his post. Photos of Josh, of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, framed by tabebuia flowers, or of himself, in a little mermaid mermaid sweater, and funny jokes made him thousands of followers on Instagram. “He had a way of capturing magic,” says his friend Brandon Joseph. The images were cheerful, like childhood memories.
Josh’s last post was on June 10, announcing that Disneyland was scheduled to reopen in July. At some point the virus had reached its nursing home, infecting 49 employees and 120 residents and eventually killing 14 people. About 41 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths are related to nursing homes, where frail people live in close quarters, according to The New York Times.
After taking the virus test on June 12, his health deteriorated. On June 15, he sent Joseph who could not breathe without breathing without being cut in the chest. On June 20, he said he was in the hospital and had a particularly bad case.
The last time Josh spoke to his family, before a fan was put on, was on June 21st. “On our last video call together, I was isolated in Anaheim, in quarantine, and our parents were home,” Jasmine says. It was Father’s Day, “and I remembered crying and crying because that was the reality of what our family was.”
Josh’s family was not allowed to visit the hospital and he died on July 6th.
Coincidentally, Josh, like his grandparents, was buried in the same cemetery as Walt Disney (Forest Lawn Memorial Park) in Glendale, California.
Before the funeral, Jasmine went to Disney’s grave. “I was like, ‘Hello, Walt. I hope you and my brother found us.’
Every night since she died, Jasmine watched the spectacular Southern California sunsets, pinks and yellows that Josh kept returning to his images. “And every time I feel like he’s with me. I look at the sky and sometimes I start talking, and I feel like I’m talking to my brother and he’s painting beautiful skies.”
Alastair Gee is a journalist at The guardian.
Melissa Bailey, Eli Cahan, Shoshana Dubnow and Anna Sirianni contributed to this report. This story is part of “He got lost on the front line, “an ongoing project of The guardian i Kaiser Health News (KHN) which aims to document the lives of health care workers in the United States who die because of COVID-19 and investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a partner or loved one we should include, please share your story.