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Richard Garay will never forget the last words he said to his father, Vidal Garay Garcia, when the two of them were quarantined together in a room at their South Los Angeles home after they both contracted the coronavirus.
That morning in early June, Garay woke up struggling to breathe and thought he was going to die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, he told BuzzFeed News on Saturday.
His father, who was battling COVID-19 along with an underlying health condition, summoned the energy to sit up and ask Garay in Spanish, "Son, are you OK?"
"Dad, I don't think I'm gonna make it," Garay recalled telling his father before being hospitalized.
That was the last time Garay spoke to his father before Vidal Garay died of complications from COVID-19 on June 20, a day before Father's Day. He had just turned 60 in May.
The coronavirus not only led to his father's death, but also infected "approximately 28 members" of Garay's family, including his mother, his wife, and their two young children, he said. Most of them have recovered or are recovering from the virus, including himself.
The 27-year-old is now warning people to take the coronavirus seriously.
"My dad was my best friend," Garay said. "I don't want my father's death to be in vain. I don't want people to experience the heartbreak we're going through."
Garay said he wanted people to understand that wearing proper protective gear can save lives and urged others not to get comfortable and let their guard down during the pandemic.
"Nobody likes to wear a mask. I don't like to wear a mask because I feel like I can't breathe," Garay said. "But if it's going to save the life of somebody, I'm going to wear the damn mask."
Garay believes his father was the first one in the family to contract the virus during a routine hospital visit for blood transfusions that Vidal Garay required every two weeks as a result of having sideroblastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. After one such transfusion in early June, doctors told his father that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Garay said that when his father first began showing COVID-19 symptoms, the family wasn't aware it could be because of the coronavirus because his father "always felt sick."
He believes that his father spread it to everyone who lived with him, including Garay, his mother, his wife, Garay's two children aged 5 and 2, and Garay's younger brother.
Garay began feeling sick towards the end of May and isolated himself at his home on May 30 after he had a high fever, body aches, and a headache. He got tested for the virus on June 1, and both he and his father were told they had the coronavirus on June 4.
The two men then self-isolated together in a room at the family's house. But when Garay's condition took a turn for the worse, he had to be hospitalized. A few days later, Garay was told that his father had also been hospitalized after his condition deteriorated. While in the hospital, Garay learned that several other family members were sick and being tested for COVID-19.
According to Garay, the disease may have spread to members of his extended family during two separate interactions with two family members who live in different houses.
Garay said his uncle had visited their house in mid-May to pick up gardening tools from his father and spent around 5 to 10 minutes there before returning to his own home, where he likely spread the disease to his own family members.
Garay's aunt, who is his mother's caretaker and who interacted with his father at their home, also likely spread the virus to her immediate family at her house.
Garay said news reports that the extended family could have contracted the virus in May during his father's 60th birthday party were inaccurate because only members of his immediate family who lived in the same house were at the party. There was also a mariachi band at the party, but they were social distancing, Garay said.
As of June 27, LA County has had more than 95,000 coronavirus cases and over 3,000 deaths.
Garay was at home recovering from COVID-19 when his father died. The family was allowed to see him for 10 minutes through a window in the hospital.
Vidal Garay was a kindhearted, hardworking man, who raised his children "to love our country and to love our neighbors," his son said.
Garay said his father last saw him being unable to breathe and that he never got the opportunity to see his son recover from the deadly virus.
"I just really wanted to tell my father I love him and that I was OK," Garay said.