LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County health officials made the somber announcement on Thursday that a staffer at a homeless shelter had died of the coronavirus.
“I am really sad to report that one of the staff members from one of the shelters has passed away, deep condolences to this person’s family, so very sorry for your loss,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of L.A. county’s Department of Public Health.
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FOX 11 has learned that the staffer was 57-year-old Gerald Shiroma, a driver at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row. He is the first positive COVID-19 case on Skid Row.
“It hit me like a spear to my soul,” said Reverend Andy Bales, the CEO of the Union Rescue Mission.
Bales lost his leg to infection after stepping in human feces on Skid Row in 2014.
He has devoted his entire life to helping the homeless.
Now, he’s mourning the loss of his friend and colleague, 57-year-old Gerald Shiroma, a former homeless addict who came to Bales and the mission for help about five years ago.
“During his recovery, he felt a lot of guilt and shame because his parents had passed during his addiction, and he wasn’t there for them,” Bales said.
But Shiroma cleaned up, and turned his life around, finding a new purpose at the shelter.
He did so well, that he was hired as a full-time driver, but almost two weeks ago, his comeback story took a tragic turn.
“It was about 11 days ago on a Friday, I actually saw Gerald coming into our elevator and I asked him how he was doing, he said I’m fine, I turned my back, had a mask on and turned my back that’s why I’m not in quarantine on the elevator,” Bales said. “At noon he shared with an associate of mine who is still on quarantine until tomorrow, that he was feeling tired and just a bit off. And so that Friday he went to urgent care and was turned away, and then Saturday he went to the ER at County/USC and they accepted him, and immediately he was in the ICU.”
Tragically, Shiroma never left the ICU.
He took his last breath on Wednesday after his organs failed from complications of COVID-19.
“His cousin wrote us that final day, yesterday, and said thanks for giving Gerald a new life, a new community, a new family, he passed away 15 minutes ago, and thanks for helping him end well,” Bales said. “We prayed for an Easter miracle that he would live, but I guess the Easter miracle he experienced was waking up in glory.”
Bales said Shiroma did have some underlying health condition because of his past addiction.
He also said he believes Shiroma was infected outside of the shelter because he was driving all over L.A. County to pick up supplies for the mission, and everyone else inside of the mission has tested negative for COVID-19.
Bales said he has also just learned about a second confirmed coronavirus case on Skid Row with a construction worker.