Before he was admitted to a Fort Bend County hospital, Alfonso Rodríguez Jr.’s dad had been complaining of an upset stomach for about a week.
The 86-year-old went to the emergency room, describing bouts of diarrhea and constipation.
He wondered: Could I have the virus?
At the ER, the elder Alfonso Rodríguez was told he likely had a twisted bowel and was sent home.
But days later he was admitted to the hospital and learned that he had COVID-19. Then the unthinkable happened — the disease tore through their family, claiming the lives of Alfonso Rodríguez Jr.’s father, his mother, Porfiria, 87, and his younger brother, Rudy, 55, in less than two weeks.
“I just kept thinking it was all like a bad dream,” the 66-year-old said. “A nightmare.”
Such heartbreaking stories have been playing out across Texas since COVID-19 cases started spiking again last month following the easing of governmental restrictions on businesses and daily activities. The resurgence has had a devastating impact on the state’s Latino community. In Harris County, for example, more than half of those hospitalized with the virus each week since late May have been Hispanic.
Cases like the Rodríguez family also illustrate the cruelty of the disease, claiming the lives of elderly parents or siblings in the blink of an eye, often without a chance to say goodbye or to hold a loved one’s hand.
Members of a Rosenberg family were devastated by COVID-19 last month. The family included:
Alfonso Anzaldua Rodríguez, 86, a father of eight and the family patriarch, who died on June 19.
Porfiria Morales Rodríguez, 87, Alfonso’s wife of 68 years and the family matriarch, who died June 9.
Rudy Rodríguez, 55, one of their sons, who lived with the couple and died on June 8.
Irene Soliz, 61, one of the couple’s daughters, who was hospitalized for COVID-19 after moving into the family’s home to care for her mother and younger brother.
Alfonso Rodríguez Jr., 66, did not test positive after visiting with his parents Memorial Day weekend. He later had to arrange the funerals.
“If you don’t think this is for real, you’re wrong. I’ve lost my mom. I’ve lost my dad and I’ve lost my brother, all in one fell swoop,” said Alfonso Jr.. “This is serious.”
Transmission among those living in the same household is occurring with COVID-19, said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.
In a McAllen hospital, Juana Prieto and her husband Jesús mourned the loss of their 35-year-old daughter Jessica to the virus as they themselves were being treated, CBS News reported. “There’s no words I can describe this. Losing your kid, my only daughter,” Juana told a reporter.
Although the elder Alfonso was initially told by doctors that he didn’t have the virus, medical experts said members of a household can take steps to reduce risks in a household when a COVID-19 diagnosis is confirmed.
“It really depends on the details,” said Kulkarni. “Are they separating? Are they not? Are they wearing a mask? Are they eating their meals together? Are they wiping down all the surfaces? What measures are being taken impact the frequency with which it happens.”
In multi-generational families, he added, some are choosing to keep older or more vulnerable members of the household away from others, and if they interact with other household members, they wear a mask.
On the Saturday before his dad was admitted to the hospital, Alfonso Jr. — one of eight children — spent the day with his parents and younger brother at their Rosenberg home.
He stayed for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The couple’s eldest son would often stop by the house on a Saturday or Sunday, bringing over an iced-down watermelon or cantaloupe for them to share at the kitchen table.
His visits had become less frequent during the pandemic, as public health officials stressed how vulnerable the elderly are to coronavirus. Still, his dad urged him to come by.
“You need to come visit us, we miss you,” he recalled his father saying.
After his father’s ER visit days earlier, X-rays didn’t find a twisted bowel. But the doctor still didn’t think he had the virus.
The elder Alfonso was given a couple of prescriptions and sent home again.
His son remembered him feeling sick that day, but being in good spirits during their visit. By evening, though, the father said his stomach was upset again and he went to lie down.
If he did have coronavirus, family members wondered, where did he get it? Alfonso’s only trips had been to the grocery store and he took precautions.
“He always wore a mask,” said Alfonso Jr. “He always wore gloves and always had plenty of hand sanitizer. So, we really can’t pinpoint that they were around somebody that was infected.”
Two days later, on Memorial Day, an ambulance transported the elder Alfonso to Oakbend Medical Center in Richmond.
His daughter Irene Soliz, 61, then came over to take care of her mom and brother Rudy, who had suffered a stroke seven years earlier that left him paralyzed and unable to speak.
Porfiria had heart issues as well as weak kidneys and lungs, and diabetes.
Irene moved into the house temporarily, unconcerned about catching the illness herself.
Soon, though, her mother and younger brother started having upset stomachs, too, and showing symptoms similar to the family patriarch’s.
Both of them started eating less.
Within two days of being at the house, Irene also began experiencing stomach issues.
One night, Irene went to check on her mom, only to find her lying on the bathroom floor. Irene picked up Porfiria, with the help of her brother, and assisted her back to bed.
Early the next morning, her mom’s condition worsened.
As Irene helped her mom to the bathroom, she could barely walk and then slipped and fell.
Irene leaned her mom against the dresser and put a pillow behind her back.
“She looked like she wasn’t there, like she was looking not at you but through you,” Irene recalled. “I said ‘Something’s not right.’”
Then, Irene called an ambulance for her mom.
Irene next became concerned about her brother, Rudy.
“Does anything else hurt?” she asked him.
He touched his chest.
“Brother, you’re gonna have to go the hospital,” Irene said. “You need to go.”
Rudy didn’t want to go to the hospital, Irene said, but he eventually agreed.
When Irene called the ambulance on June 3, just a few days after she had called one for her mom, Rudy looked troubled.
“He looked at me like he wasn’t going to come back or something,” Irene recalled.
That evening, Irene’s husband, two sons and daughter came by the Rosenberg home and sat outside under the trees on lawn chairs. Irene remained on the porch.
Her family told her about a clinic in Stafford where she could get a rapid test for coronavirus.
Irene had been tested a week earlier, at a site at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds, but she hadn’t yet received her results.
Meanwhile, Rudy had been placed on a ventilator shortly after being admitted to the same hospital as his mother and father.
He died five days after being admitted.
Alfonso Jr. couldn’t fathom the news. He thought his younger brother would pull through. So did Irene.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Irene said. “He was the last one to leave. He seems the strongest.”
A day later, on June 9, Alfonso Jr. called his sister with more bad news.
“Mommy, passed away,” he told her.
Irene was alone at the Rosenberg home, not wanting to risk making anyone sick.
She said she relied on her faith.
“I’m not alone,” Irene said. “God’s with me.”
Just before midnight, Irene drove herself to United Memorial Medical Center in Acres Homes.
Her family followed behind to make sure she got there safely.
She had completed her rapid test at the clinic in Stafford and received the results: positive.
Irene had multiple COVID-19 symptoms: slight headache, poor appetite, loss of taste, upset stomach.
Her family had pushed for her to be admitted to United Memorial Medical Center, which has been lauded for its success in treating COVID-19 patients.
Alfonso Jr. was trying to hold it together for the family, making funeral arrangements for both his mother and brother. He couldn’t sleep as he tried to console his brothers and sisters.
He remembered what his mom had told him about being the oldest sibling.
“When we’re gone, you’re gonna have to step up,” Alfonso Jr. tearfully recalled her saying. “You’re gonna have to be the glue of the family.”
Alfonso Jr. was also fighting to get his dad transferred from the community hospital where he was being treated. He thought maybe UTMB or a hospital in the Texas Medical Center might be able to do more.
His sister, meanwhile, was undergoing intense treatment at United Memorial.
She was given breathing and other treatments, as well as a range of vitamins, to help her stay strong and fight the deadly virus.
On June 19, Alfonso Jr. called her with more devastating news: Despite getting his father transferred to UTMB, he had died too.
Irene had been able to talk with him by phone early in the family crisis. Now Irene, who was isolated from family throughout her two-week stay at the hospital, again was alone when she learned about a parent dying.
“There’s nobody there to console her,” said Alfonso Jr.. “Nobody there to put their arms around her.”
Porfiria and Alfonso had been married for 68 years, building a large family of eight children as well as grandchildren and great-grand children.
At their home in Rosenberg, the Rodríguez family took care of one another.
A native of Westhoff in DeWitt County, the senior Alfonso had worked as a contractor. More recently, he had his own small lawn-mower repair shop
He suffered a brain aneurysm several years ago, but had been in good health since, often cooking for everyone in the house.
He could fix breakfast fast, making shredded potatoes, eggs, sausage, bacon and tortillas, in 20 minutes.
Porfiria, born in Nordheim, maintained the house for the large family. She was quiet, but her warmth and compassion came through in her hugs.
“They said you could feel the love that my mother had,” said Irene.
The Rodríguez family loved gathering for celebrations. Often, the elder Alfonso would be the one dancing, usually with Porfiria, but when she got tired, he would pull in other relatives.
She also loved listening to Los Luzeros De Rioverde, a Houston family music group.
A Richmond native, Rudy made sure his mom took her medications. Before his stroke, Rudy also remodeled homes and worked as a roofing contractor.
He loved watching old Westerns as well as attending family parties, where Irene would only let him have one beer.
“He would kind of laugh,” said Irene. “He snapped his fingers, like darn.”
The Rodríguez siblings are all struggling to cope with the sudden loss of their parents.
When Alfonso Jr. had lawn mower issues recently, he wanted to call his father, who was a skilled lawn mower mechanic.
“I can’t call him anymore,” Alfonso Jr. realized
After Irene was discharged from the hospital and took her second COVID-19 test, she immediately wanted to call her parents to tell them she had tested negative again. She realized she couldn’t.
“I can’t give them the good news,” she said.