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In his father's workshop, Jose Hermosillo and his daughter Aleeysa, 6, share a quiet moment, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland. Hermosillo's father, Jose, 66, was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County. Both father and son rebuilt vintage bicycles together in the workshop and shared a close personal bond with one another. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020

’You can go, Dad. I love you’: Santa Rosa family shares anguish after patriarch dies from coronavirus

Jose Hermosillo was a generous friend and beloved father and grandfather. In May, he was the third Sonoma County resident to die of COVID-19.

After lunch one day back in 1985, Jose Hermosillo walked into the Tex-Mex Video on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa carrying boxes of takeout food, a gift for a stranger.

Gonzalo Esquivel had recently opened the small store renting Mexican and Mexican-American movies in the city’s Roseland neighborhood. Hermosillo said he just had lunch with his brother and thought Esquivel might be hungry, working alone in his shop.

Longtime Santa Rosa resident Jose Hermosillo, 66, died May 3, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. (Hermosillo family)
Longtime Santa Rosa resident Jose Hermosillo, 66, died May 3, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. (Hermosillo family)

“He came with food, comida,” Esquivel said. “At that time I didn’t know his name. He didn’t know me and he’s thinking about me and worrying about me. We became friends on that day.“

Togetherness for Hermosillo began with bowls full of spicy menudo, birria or simple caldo de res with his family and his two best friends, Esquivel and Pablo Mendoza of Santa Rosa, who now mourn his loss.

Hermosillo died May 3 from complications of COVID-19 after nearly a week of almost complete isolation at Kaiser Medical Center in Santa Rosa, said his son, also Jose Hermosillo. He had developed pneumonia and ultimately succumbed to acute respiratory distress, according to the sheriff coroner’s office.

His family was kept away out of concerns about the infectious pathogen until his last hour, when his son rushed to the hospital and suited up in protective gear in order to hold his father’s hand as he died.

“I think he knew I was there,” said his 43-year-old son, known in the family by his middle name, Manuel. “I thanked him for everything. He was breathing. I said, ’You can go, Dad. I love you.’ A tear rolled down out of his eye. He took his last breath.”

Jose Manuel Hermosillo in his father's workshop, left, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland.  Hermosillio's father, Jose, 66, was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County.  Both father and son rebuilt vintage bicycles together in the workshop and shared a close personal bond with one another. His dad's coveralls are on the right.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020
Jose Manuel Hermosillo in his father's workshop, left, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland. Hermosillio's father, Jose, 66, was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County. Both father and son rebuilt vintage bicycles together in the workshop and shared a close personal bond with one another. His dad's coveralls are on the right. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020

A beloved friend, father and grandfather, and reliably the first to suggest gathering over a meal, Hermosillo was the third Sonoma County resident to die from the novel coronavirus, a pandemic that has killed more than a half million people worldwide.

So far, 16 local residents have died from the disease, starting with a 77-year-old Healdsburg man who had been on vacation on the Grand Princess cruise before dying from COVID-19 on March 20. At least five had been living at skilled nursing or other senior care facilities.

Hermosillo, 66, retired with a pension after a nearly four-decade career with Fulton Processors, later called Fulton Valley Farm, a longtime Sonoma County chicken slaughterhouse.

"My dad, he was my best friend,“ the younger Hermosillo said.

I said, ’You can go, Dad. I love you.’ A tear rolled down out of his eye. He took his last breath.” ― Jose “Manuel” Hermosillo, Jose Hermosillo’s son

He lamented that his father had years of life to look forward to despite having diabetes and a 2017 health setback from being hit by a car as he walked in a crossing.

“My dad was a hard worker, a great, great man,” Manuel Hermosillo said. “Everybody that knew my dad loved him ... he would have lived a lot longer.”

His family has yet to hold a memorial because of the pandemic. The plan is to take Hermosillo’s ashes to Mexico once the virus is no longer a threat.

Jose Manuel Hermosillo and his daughter Aleeysa, 6, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland.  Hermosillo's father, Jose, 66, was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County.  Both father and son rebuilt vintage bicycles together in the workshop and shared a close personal bond with one another. His dad's coveralls are on the right.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020
Jose Manuel Hermosillo and his daughter Aleeysa, 6, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland. Hermosillo's father, Jose, 66, was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County. Both father and son rebuilt vintage bicycles together in the workshop and shared a close personal bond with one another. His dad's coveralls are on the right. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020

The family does not know for certain how he contracted COVID-19. He was careful to wear a mask, sanitize his hands and rarely left the house apart from trips to FoodMaxx, his son said. One other family member also was diagnosed with the virus, a person described by relatives as having a driftless lifestyle and who would stop by Hermosillo’s home for soda on ice and to watch TV. That relative was isolated for about six weeks at the county’s care site at Sonoma State University and has since tested negative for the disease, Manuel Hermosillo said.

Everyone else in the family, including Hermosillo’s wife, Yolanda Alvarez, would later test negative for the virus, he said.

The grip of the virus seemed more tenuous, its spread in Sonoma County much slower, when Hermasillo died in early May. The county had been under strict stay-home orders for six weeks, with many businesses closed, and the health department at that time had reported just over 250 confirmed cases.

But those numbers have risen dramatically since Memorial Day as commercial and civic life has reopened, fueling a surge of cases in late June, with a total of 1,703 reported COVID-19 infections by Saturday and 16 deaths.

Half of the deaths have occurred in the past two weeks.

The virus has taken its greatest toll on Sonoma County’s Latino residents. About 70% of local cases are among Latino individuals, although they represent only 27% of the county population.

Santa Rosa resident Jose Hermosillo, 66, and his son Jose Manuel Hermosillo, 42. Hermosillo died May 3, 2020 from complications of COVID-19.  (Hermosillo family)
Santa Rosa resident Jose Hermosillo, 66, and his son Jose Manuel Hermosillo, 42. Hermosillo died May 3, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. (Hermosillo family)

Public health experts have said the virus is merely exposing existing socio-economic inequalities that make Latino residents more likely to work in essential jobs and live in closer quarters with family or coworkers — circumstances that have made it more likely for a person to become infected.

Hermosillo’s illness came on fast.

Two days before he became so feverish and disoriented that his family called an ambulance to his Barham Avenue home, he walked to a back shed on the property where he restored vintage bicycles, a hobby the nearly inseparable father and son shared.

"He brought me coffee,“ recalled his son. ”He said he was getting cold, he was shivering. I said, ’Let’s go inside.’ “

On April 26, a Sunday, the younger Hermosillo was called back to the home by a sister worried their father was seriously ill. Hermosillo insisted that he was fine, but his children knew he was not. His son thought his father was having a stroke.

After arriving in the ambulance at Kaiser Medical Center in Santa Rosa, doctors at first surmised Hermosillo had a kidney infection, but eventually on that first day at the hospital he was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to his son.

The younger Hermosillo wrote down every bit of information he could get from hospital staff: his father’s 103-degree temperature when he was admitted; the increasing amounts of oxygen being administered to him, starting at 3 liters per minute and eventually hitting 6. By the third day in the hospital, “they realized he had severe pneumonia” and moved him into the intensive care unit, the younger Hermosillo said.

His fever finally broke Thursday, five days after arriving at the hospital, according to his son’s notes.

For the better part of that week, Hermosillo was in near seclusion at the hospital where his care providers observed him through a window and monitored his condition with machines to limit contact with the highly infectious virus, his son said.

“You can’t just call and say, ’Can you check on my dad?’ ” the younger Hermosillo said. “They check on him once a day. He was just alone.”

Jose Manuel Hermosillo displays his father, Jose Hermosillo's childhood toys, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland.  His father was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020
Jose Manuel Hermosillo displays his father, Jose Hermosillo's childhood toys, Saturday, July 11, 2020 in Roseland. His father was the third person to die of COVID-19 in Sonoma County. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020

Hermosillo was born March 12, 1954, in Mexicali to Manuel Hermosillo and Valentina Lozano. He was 14 years old when he and his brother, Mario Hermosillo, traveled north to work in the Healdsburg vineyards. Hermosillo became a U.S. citizen through the 1986 bill that, under President Ronald Reagan, granted citizenship to nearly 3 million people in the nation without legal documentation.

He started working at Fulton Processors in the early 1970s, according to his son. He married Marguerita Hardy and they had three children: Izzy “Tammy” Schilling, Celina Hermosillo and Jose “Manuel” Hermosillo. The couple later divorced.

Esquivel, the Tex-Mex Video proprietor, recalled how his friend, Jose Hermosillo, would come by the store, usually carrying young Manuel Hermosillo in his arms.

Hermosillo later had another daughter, Samantha Hermosillo, through a subsequent relationship and an adopted son, Sergio Lomeli.

Esquivel recalled decades of closing-time card games in the video store with his two friends, Hermosillo and Mendoza. They watched each other’s children grow up. Esquivel said he often kept Hermosillo company on overnight shifts at the slaughterhouse.

Last fall, when his only grandchild, Aleeysa Hermosillo, started kindergarten at the Santa Rosa French-American Charter School, Hermosillo started a new routine: He picked her up just about every day at the Sonoma Avenue campus. They would get something to eat, then go play at a playground.

“They had a really strong bond,” his son said.

Santa Rosa resident Jose Hermosillo, 66, kisses his granddaughter, Aleeysa Hermosillo, 6. Hermosillo died May 3, 2020 from complications of COVID-19.  (Hermosillo family)
Santa Rosa resident Jose Hermosillo, 66, kisses his granddaughter, Aleeysa Hermosillo, 6. Hermosillo died May 3, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. (Hermosillo family)

Hermosillo taught his son to fix cars, and his son got his father interested in his hobby restoring vintage pre-war bicycles. Father and son rarely missed the monthly Alameda Point Antiques Faire, always stopping at the same taco truck near the Oakland Coliseum first.

Before he was hospitalized, Hermosillo stopped by Esquivel’s house, as he often did, especially after Esquivel’s wife died several years ago.

“He was always worried about me. He’d say ’Let’s go have something to eat,’ ” Esquivel said.

Esquivel recalled one of the last times he saw his friend, maybe a week or two before he received the call about Hermosillo’s death, news that would break his heart. The friends were being careful about going out because of the virus, but they would occasionally drive to buy fresh tamales.

On this day, Hermosillo called to say he wasn’t feeling well but he’d bring him something to eat. Comida.

“He didn’t want to go out,” Esquivel said. “He came over and called me outside, and said, ’I left you food.’ ”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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