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Thomas Macias knew he messed up. It was getting harder for him to take each breath. So he opened up Facebook and wrote a warning to his friends.
“This is no joke,” he wrote on June 20 as his COVID-19 symptoms took a turn for the worse. “If you have to go out wear a mask and practice social distancing. Don’t be a fucking idiot like me.”
The next day, he died of COVID-19.
The 51-year-old trucker from Lake Elsinore, California, had been cautious during the pandemic, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask because he had diabetes and was concerned about his elderly mother, his niece, Brianna Lopez, told BuzzFeed News.
But as the state started to loosen restrictions and open up restaurants, Lopez said her uncle started to feel like he too could relax, and that it was now safer to meet with friends. So he decided to go to a barbecue.
“I fucked up and went out a couple of weeks ago and I contracted the corona virus,” Macias wrote in his Facebook post, which has since been made private.
Macias had started to feel sick a few days later, Lopez said, but he thought he was just feeling under the weather because of his diabetes. He had gone to visit his mother and sisters, and his siblings had noted he looked tired and sweaty.
Then a friend who had attended the same barbecue told Macias they had tested positive for the coronavirus, and that he should get tested as well.
The friend, Lopez said, told Macias he thought it was fine for them to go out because they were asymptomatic, and didn’t believe they could infect anyone if they weren’t feeling sick. Health officials have warned, however, that the virus can be transmitted even if patients never exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.
Lopez said her uncle was immediately concerned, not just for his health, but because he worried he had put his family at risk.
“Because of my stupidity I put my mom and sisters and my family’s health in jeopardy,” Macias wrote. “This has been a very painful experience.”
Before his symptoms worsened, Lopez said, that was her uncle’s biggest concern.
“My uncle, he always put everyone ahead of himself,” Lopez said.
Her grandmother and aunts all tested negative for the virus, but Lopez said Macias’ symptoms worsened the Saturday that he wrote the Facebook post. He called his siblings and told them he was having trouble breathing.
“He was starting to feel better on Friday, and then Saturday he called saying he was having a really hard time breathing,” she said. “That’s when it took a turn for the worst.”
On June 21, he called his mother from the hospital.
“She just kept saying, ‘You’re going to be fine, Tommy. We’re going to see you when you get out of this,'” Lopez said. “But he didn’t.”
Since then, his message on Facebook has been covered on multiple local and national media outlets, noting the eerie timing of his death just hours he had posted the somber warning.
But Lopez said she feels the message has also resonated with people because her uncle seemed to have taken responsibility for his mistake, and his concern that he might have infected loved ones even as his symptoms worsened.
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“He acknowledged that it was dumb of him to go out in the first place,” she said.
The loosening of restrictions from state and local health officials gave her uncle a false sense of security, she said, and he let his guard down, even though it was still not safe.
She said Macias also refused to tell relatives the name of the friend who attended the party despite knowing they were infected with the virus, stressing that the responsibility lay with him.
“I hope people understand how serious this is,” she said. “Even if you have it and you don’t have symptoms, it’s not OK to go out just because you think you can’t pass it on to others.”
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