Susana “Susie” Garcia loved a family party, and while celebrating her mother’s birthday March 7, about a month after her father’s death, she decided to stay a few extra days in San Jose. That’s when the sniffles began.
When she returned home to Delano on March 13, she treated her sneezing and coughing with only allergy medicine. Five days later Garcia was struggling to breathe.
Her death early Friday morning at Adventist Health Delano Regional Medical Center, Kern County’s first COVID-19 fatality, has shown her whole family the critical importance of social distancing — and its sometimes tragic deprivations.
Garcia used to tell her family to celebrate her after she died. But because of the need for coronavirus precautions, no more than 10 people in Garcia’s family of six siblings, three children and five grandchildren may attend the upcoming funeral. There will be no large party afterward.
Her only daughter, Jessica Juarez, was still waiting Wednesday to find out her own COVID-19 test results. Not knowing whether she has the virus meant Juarez was unable to hug her three young daughters when she had to tell them their grandmother had died.
“It really hit home," said Garcia's uncle, Lupe Salaz. "We want to do public awareness to stay at home and obey the governor’s order to self-isolate.”
Juarez said Garcia's doctor told her it was a “classic” coronavirus case. She was living at age 52 with heart disease and diabetes. She had suffered a few heart attacks and a long, difficult recovery from being bitten 2½ years ago by a brown recluse spider.
Her family remembered Garcia Wednesday as the fun-lover of the group, always ready to take a selfie and join the fun after her marital separation a few years ago led to a departure from the family sporting goods business and new independence to travel.
"After she (got over) that spider bite she definitely made the most out of her life," Juarez said.
Born in Tijuana, Garcia lived with her family in Delano before moving to San Jose. After marriage she moved back to Delano and was followed by members of her family.
She was a good cook who loved to dance and listen to singer Jenni Rivera. Family members heard about it later if they ever neglected to invite her to a party.
Her aunt Sandra Salaz remembers Garcia as the one who always hosted the big holiday gatherings. Social as well outside the family, she would attend the funerals of people she didn't know and joined others' prayer circles at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Delano.
"She was a very happy, bubbling person that would love to have everybody together," Salaz said. "Her laugh is still in my mind."
San Jose, where her mother's birthday party took place, was an early cradle for COVID-19 infections. Juarez suspects that's where Garcia caught the virus.
Her caregivers gave Garcia a lung x-ray the day she arrived at Delano Regional and a CT scan the next day, Juarez said. Every day Garcia received an x-ray to monitor the progress of the disease.
Her temperature rose steadily during the next several days — 101, 102, 103, 104. Juarez said the whole time the doctors thought it was pneumonia.
On March 24, Juarez said, Garcia was put on a ventilator. Test results arrived a day later: Garcia had COVID-19.
By that time, her children were forbidden from entering the first-floor intensive care unit where their mother was being treated. Nurses agreed to open the shades so they could at least keep an eye on her.
Juarez said she held out hope as recently as last Thursday, when she was told by a doctor that Garcia was doing well "considering that all her other organs were still functioning."
But less than a day later, her fever peaking at 107.8 degrees, Garcia died.
Juarez said lately she becomes upset when she sees social media posts showing people hanging around with others without gloves and masks. Because even testing negative for the virus does not mean they're safe, she said.
"You definitely should take this seriously," she said. "You should definitely use all the cautionary measures that they’re saying."
Garcia is survived by her mother, Socorro Garcia; siblings Alfonso Garcia Jr., Carlos Garcia, Lupita Garcia, Martin Garcia, Miguel Garcia, Silvia Suarez; husband Hector Juarez Sr., children Giovanni, Hector Jr. and Jessica Juarez; and grandchildren Alexa, Evelyn, Halia, Leilani and Penelope.
Funeral details are not being disclosed. Family members said they hope to host a live Facebook feed of Garcia's Rosary.