Family Says California Nurse Who Died from COVID-19 Had Only Surgical Mask Instead of N95 Mask

Celia Marcos died on April 17, two days after testing positive for COVID-19 — and two weeks after being exposed to the virus

Celia Marcos - Hollywood Nurse Dies from COVID-19
Celia Marcos. Photo: GoFundMe

A 61-year-old nurse in California died last month, two weeks after risking her own safety to help a patient with the novel coronavirus.

On April 3, Celia Marcos, a charge nurse at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, rushed to help a patient who had tested positive for COVID-19 after he stopped breathing, according to The Los Angeles Times.

At the time, she was only wearing a surgical mask and not the more protective N95 mask, according to her son John Marcos, who has created a GoFundMe to help pay for expenses. Hospital staff told the Times that she was not given an N95 mask at the start of her shift, as they were in limited supply.

Marcos began feeling ill three days later and was admitted to the hospital where she had worked for over a decade on April 15, having developed pneumonia and tested positive for the virus. She died two days later.

“It was definitely heartbreaking… She passed away alone, without family by her side,” her son John told KTLA. “At least there were coworkers who knew her.”

“I want people to remember she’s not just a regular nurse,” he added. “She went above and beyond and she made the ultimate sacrifice unfortunately.”

Last month, representatives from a local nurses union filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, calling Marcos’ death the “result of inadequate PPE provided to staff,” PEOPLE can confirm.

“Celia was called to a COVID-19 isolation room while wearing only a surgical mask — not the required N95 respirator, gown, face shield, and booties that her hospital should have given her for her protection,” SEIU 121 President Nina Wells said in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. “Now we know she gave her life to try to save a life.”

Hospital officials have denied the allegations and said that the hospital follows all federal guidelines for providing staff with PPE. “CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (HPMC) is united with our frontline staff in the battle against COVID-19. Celia Marcos personifies the commitment to patient care that is embedded in the culture at HPMC, and we are proud to have called her one of our own for over 16 years,” CHA HPMC said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

"HPMC has conducted detailed investigations and contact tracing of our employees, and to date, there have been no employees with a positive COVID-19 test who have been exposed to the virus in the context of responding to a Code Blue for a COVID-19 patient at HPMC," the statement continued. "HPMC is proud of our commitment to providing staff with PPE per CDC guidelines, which is how we have kept our hundreds of frontline workers safe during this pandemic."

"Statements made that 'a man with COVID-19 had stopped breathing' and that 'Celia was called to a COVID-19 isolation room' are categorically false, misinformed, and defamatory," the statement concluded. "The fact remains that there is community transmission of COVID-19 between asymptomatic people in Los Angeles, which underscores the importance of the Mayor’s 'Safer at Home' Emergency Order, and the need for a cautious and phased approach to reopening."

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A candlelit vigil to honor Marcos was held outside the hospital last Wednesday.

“We didn’t want a symbol for the importance of proper PPE,” SEIU Local 121RN Vice President Sydnie Boylan, who worked alongside Marcos at the hospital, said in a union press released obtained by PEOPLE. “We didn’t need one. We already know how to keep healthcare workers safe. But sadly, our Union now has an unspeakably sad symbol for our efforts to enforce safety standards.”

In a note which was read by a hospital worker at the vigil, John wrote, "My mom was the one everyone could count on. She was the same quiet, strong, supportive person in our extended family that she was to you all here at the hospital. She was always the one to offer help."

“Even though you were not able to be with her at the time of her passing, all of us were there with her,” a nurse attending the vigil told Marcos' son, CBSLA reported. “And she was never alone.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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