The sister of a New York City nurse who died this week after contracting COVID-19 has shared his heartrending final message to her, while calling out the dangerous shortage of personal protective equipment at his hospital.
Mount Sinai West nursing manager Kious Jordan Kelly was hospitalized March 17 and died Tuesday. He was in his 40s.
His sister, Marya Sherron, spoke with NBC News Friday saying her brother had an infectious energy. "You felt good when he was around and you noticed when he left," she said.
In one of the most heartbreaking stories from New York's healthcare crisis so far, she shared her brother’s last text message to her. “Can’t talk because I choke and can’t breathe," he wrote. "I love you. Going back to sleep.”
Sherron replied: "You've pulled through so much. Love you and we are praying."
She told NBC News she is devastated by her brother's death, and believes his exposure to COVID-19 was preventable. "I absolutely believe that he contracted this because of the lack of PPE at in his unit and at his hospital -- but that's across our nation," she said. "He's not a victim. He is a hero."
Mt. Sinai released a statement on Kelly's death earlier this week. "We are deeply saddened by the passing of a beloved member of our nursing staff," it said. "The safety of our staff and patients has never been of greater importance and we are taking every precaution possible to protect everyone."
Healthcare workers are in dire need of PPE such as masks, gowns and gloves. The New York Times reported that workers at Mount Sinai were seen on social media using trash bags as protective gear.
In a statement Thursday, Mount Sinai said the "troubling photo" most widely circulated shows the nurses in proper PPE underneath the garbage bags.
“The safety and protection of all Mount Sinai staff and patients is always – and will always be - our absolute top priority, but especially during the COVID-19 crisis," the statement said. "When it comes to staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), the facts are very different than recent media reports. To be clear: we always provide all our staff with the critically important PPE they need to safely do their job."
“We know how challenging these conditions are, and how scared people have become but we are doing everything humanly possible to calm these fears and protect our staff and patients," Mount Sinai continued. "This is the greatest humanitarian crisis in a century, and we are all in this together. This week we lost a member of our family. We are grieving deeply for his loss, but we must carry on and continue to do what we do best: save lives."
Hospitals across the city have been overwhelmed with coronavirus patients and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said actual hospitalizations have moved at a higher rate than the projected models. Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and Brookdale Hospital in Queens have started constructing makeshift morgues to prepare for the worst.
As of Friday morning , the number of hospitalizations was up 13-fold over the last 10 days, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, but the rate of admittances doubling is slowing -- from every two days earlier this week to every four days by Thursday.
That, despite the surge in overall numbers, could signal a slowing rate of spread, Cuomo says. But, he acknowledged, the height of the crisis is still ahead -- about 21 days out. So far, at least 519 people have died from COVID-19 in New York.