Coronavirus sweeps through Iowa firefighter's family

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Omar Martinez holds a photo of his father, Jose Gabriel Martinez, as he stands in front of their home, Saturday, April 25, 2020, in West Liberty, Iowa. Martinez's family had been living the American dream after immigrating from Mexico in the 1990s and settling in this small town in eastern Iowa, but their lives fell apart after coronavirus infections spread from his mother to his sister and his father. Now he is planning his father's funeral while hoping his sister recovers in a hospital intensive care unit. He is grateful his mother is better and appreciates the community's support. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY, Iowa – His mother first fell sick a month ago with an illness she believes she caught at the Iowa egg factory where she works.

His younger sister, 22, was next — a new mother who was soon on a ventilator fighting for her life. Then the coronavirus came for his father, Jose Gabriel Martinez, 58, who died Tuesday in the same hospital where he lived his final days near his unknowing daughter.

After a month of caring for his virus-stricken family, firefighter Omar Martinez is now planning a funeral for his father, who was a factory worker known for giving his all to provide for his family. He's hoping for the recovery of his sister Evelyn, who is alert after being taken off a ventilator Thursday. He's dreading having to tell her the news about their dad.

Omar, 29, said he's grateful that his mother has recovered and that he, two siblings and his 2-year-old niece have stayed healthy. He's also touched by the support they've received from neighbors in West Liberty, a heavily Hispanic city of 3,800 where his family settled after immigrating from Mexico in the 1990s.

He wants people to know how easily the virus can spread if they infect others and how quickly that can devastate a family.

“All it takes is one person to be irresponsible to affect a family that doesn’t deserve it,” Omar Martinez said in an interview. “I don’t wish this upon anybody. I get asked every day how do I do it? I have no answers.”

The Martinez family's situation is illustrative of the startling racial and ethnic disparities among those getting infected and dying from the coronavirus.

While Latinos make up 6% of Iowa's population, they have accounted for more than 22% of its confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the state Department of Public Health. The disparity widened as more testing was conducted on plant workers, who are disproportionately Latino and account for more than a quarter of Iowa's confirmed cases. State officials say more dense housing environments also play a role.