West Valley City • Julio Sanchez-Cervantes had lived in Utah only about a month before he died of COVID-19. His ashes were sent to his son in California.
Sanchez-Cervantes’ sister, Judith Martinez, died from the virus six weeks later. Her ashes are with her widower — the man who found Sanchez-Cervantes not breathing — and her daughter in Utah.
Martinez’s granddaughter, Karen Valenzuela, said the family would have liked to have held memorials, but that’s been another thing stolen by the pandemic.
“Not being able to mourn as a family has been hard,” Valenzuela said.
As Utah reached a new milestone in the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, with four more deaths for a total of 401 and more than 50,000 total cases, Sanchez-Cervantes, Martinez, and their families are at once typical of who has been afflicted with the virus and a worse-case scenario. Latinos and other demographics less likely to have employment that lets them work from home have been at high-risk for contracting COVID-19.
Utah has had one of the lowest coronavirus death rates in the country, and few families have suffered multiple deaths. Besides Sanchez-Cervantes and Martinez, the only other such case discovered in Salt Lake Tribune reporting was in Orem, where Manuela Nieto Palacios died April 30 at age 86. The next day, her son-in-law, Moises Alonso Chavez, 77, died, too.
Outside the family home in West Valley City on Tuesday night after they had all finished work, Sanchez-Cervantes and Martinez’s survivors remembered them and pondered why they have had to suffer so much, especially Martinez’s husband, Juan Galicia. He is recovering from the virus.
The family is from Mexico City. With his grandchildren translating, Galicia recalled his late brother-in-law as a prankster.
Galicia choked up when thinking of his wife, who died June 25 at age 69. He said he remembers her with a lot of love and misses her a lot.
The pandemic was in its early days when Sanchez-Cervantes, 50, left California and arrived in Utah in April. He was staying with his sister and brother-in-law at their home in West Valley City while working a construction job.
Brian Galicia, a great-nephew of Sanchez-Cervantes who worked with him on the construction crew, said no one knows where Sanchez-Cervantes contracted the virus. He was the first person in the family and on the crew to show symptoms of COVID-19. He had a fever and was tired.
Everyone was aware the coronavirus was spreading, Brian Galicia said, but they thought Sanchez-Cervantes had caught a cold or was sick from the high altitudes of West Valley City and Park City. Getting examined by a doctor would have meant missing work and, probably, a paycheck.
“There’s people here that can’t even afford to take half a day off,” Brian Galicia said.
Juan Galicia said Sanchez-Cervantes tried treating his symptoms with herbal tea. Meanwhile, the virus spread among the family. Brian Galicia, his brother Steven and an uncle Edgar on the construction crew got sick. So did Juan Galicia and Martinez.
Martinez had been a librarian in Mexico and worked at a Motel 6 in Salt Lake City, her family said. She had diabetes — a risk factor for complications from the virus — and her symptoms started out mild, Valenzuela said, but coughing and body aches progressed as Sanchez-Cervantes worsened.
By the second week of May, Sanchez-Cervantes was too sick to work, his family said. He was tested for COVID-19 on about May 12 but never saw a doctor. Brian Galicia doesn’t think Sanchez-Cervantes received his results before he died.
On May 13, Juan Galicia called his brother-in-law to dinner. When there was no answer, Juan Galicia knocked on the bedroom door.
He found Sanchez-Cervantes blue and not breathing. He was pronounced dead a short time later.
Valenzuela said she and her uncle decided that day to take her grandmother to the hospital.
“We didn’t want to wait until she got any worse,” Valenzuela said.
In the first few days at Jordan Valley Medical Center, doctors expected Martinez to recover, Valenzuela said. Family members were not allowed to be with Martinez in the hospital. They called nurses for updates and to arrange video calls with Martinez.
But the virus had damaged Martinez’s lungs. Martinez said she did not want to be put on a ventilator, Valenzuela said, and by the time she changed that stance, the doctors said it was too late. Martinez died June 25.
At Martinez’s old home Tuesday, her survivors pondered what could have made a difference for her and her brother and what could save other Latinos like them. Besides their having jobs that force them to interact with the public, the family members say, there are cultural norms that encourage them to be social and greet one another with handshakes or hugs.
“It’s kind of rude if we don’t,” Valenzuela said.
Brian Galicia would like to see free health care offered to Utah’s Latino community.
“If they could avoid all those fees,” he said, “I bet people would get a lot more help.”
Grandfather Juan would like more mandatory mask orders. “And,” he said, “for people to actually take the quarantine seriously.”