Friday, 16 Apr 2021

A Family’s Search for Answers: Did Their Brother Die of Covid?

When a healthy 41-year-old died a year ago, an autopsy blamed heart disease. But his family wants to know if the coronavirus was lurking before anyone realized it.

Patrick Hidalgo, photographed in 2009 while he was studying at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Hidalgo died on March 2, 2020, after telling his siblings he was struggling to breathe.Credit…Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

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By Patricia Mazzei

MIAMI — The Hidalgo siblings buried their younger brother, Patrick, six days after he had texted them in the middle of the night last March to say that something was wrong: He was gasping for air. Two days after that, paramedics found his body in his Miami Beach apartment. One of his hands still held a rosary.

To his Mass of Resurrection came relatives from California and Maryland, ex-classmates from Boston, former colleagues from Washington. A woman he loved flew in all the way from Dubai.

In the following days of March 2020, the coronavirus brought life in the United States to an abrupt halt. Only then, as their shock subsided and grief deepened, did the Hidalgo family start to wonder if Patrick, their 41-year-old brother who had radiated light and glued them together, had died of Covid-19.

Families who lost someone with little warning and no obvious explanation in those whirlwind early days of the pandemic were robbed of the comfort of knowing exactly what took the person they loved.

Patrick died in that murky period a year ago when the nascent virus outbreak — where it came from, how far it had traveled — was only beginning to be understood. As the first deaths were recorded across the country, families like his found themselves in a state of haunting uncertainty that has never gone away.

There have likely been half a million more deaths linked to the virus than what has been officially reported, including more than 68,000 in the U.S., according to analyses of death rates around the world. Some families have gone to great lengths to try to get death certificates revised to list Covid-19, or to prove that the deceased had the virus in the first place. They often have little help from the authorities, who are swamped — or, some people fear, downplaying the virus.

Unable to obtain definitive proof, families are left with the uneasy feeling that, had it not been for the pandemic, their loved one might still be alive.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever have closure or fully understand,” said Rosie Hidalgo, one of Patrick’s four older siblings. “And that’s hard.”

That the virus could have contributed to Patrick’s death had not immediately occurred to them. Patrick died on March 2, 2020, the day after Florida announced its first confirmed Covid-19 cases. He was buried on March 7. The National Basketball Association suspended its season, a decision that made the crisis feel real to many people, on March 11.

On March 13, a cousin who had gone to Patrick’s funeral, Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami, tested positive. Others attendees wondered if Mr. Suarez had exposed them before realizing that he had likely become infected after the funeral.

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