AUSTIN (KXAN) — After more than a month in an Austin ICU fighting COVID-19, the family of Patricia Perez got word early this week that the end was near.
Her five adult children gathered at St. David’s Medical Center on 32nd Street to receive the devastating news from doctors: she was not expected to make it through the night. The update did not come as a surprise.
This past weekend, on Patricia’s 70th birthday, doctors told her family they had exhausted all options. By Wednesday morning, the ventilator and all of the other machines that had been keeping her alive were turned off, and the Perez family starting making burial plans.
“It’s been a tough road and definitely wasn’t her time,” said Adrianne Perez, Patricia’s daughter.
Potential exposure at the polls
Patricia’s children said she had barely left her house since March due to the pandemic, but there was no stopping her from working the Travis County polls during early voting—a job she had performed for years due to her passion for politics.
She wore a face shield, a mask and gloves while assisting voters at the Holiday Inn near Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 290. On Oct. 22 she called her children concerned about a fellow poll worker.
“She was so upset,” said Adrianne. “She had noticed a guy was sick and had been blowing his nose, coughing.”
Perez told her family he was wearing a mask, but kept working that day with symptoms, and then he went to get a COVID test.
“The poll worker felt fine when they went to work that morning and felt fine until much later during the day and then began to feel just a little puny,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, Travis County Clerk. “And immediately told people there… the poll worker just wasn’t feeling right, and everybody decided that that person should leave immediately and that is what happened.”
Perez learned later that night he took a rapid test, which came back positive for COVID-19. The next day she called her U.S Congressman’s office and relayed the story.
“Apparently she ended up sitting in the same chair as this person and was very concerned,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.
Doggett said his staff called the Travis County Clerk’s Office and urged them to take action.
DeBeauvoir said steps were already being taken including contact tracing and communicating with poll workers that they should get tested for the virus and quarantine for 14 days.
Perez’s first test came back negative, but a week later her family said she started feeling sick and got tested again. This time it was positive. Her family said she wasn’t just worried about her own health.
“She said there was so many voters that came in contact with this man,” said Jennifer Zapata, Patricia’s daughter.
KXAN asked the county clerk why voters at the election site were not notified. DeBeauvoir said none of the poll worker’s interactions with voters met the CDC’s definition of an exposure, which includes being in close contact with an infected person for 15 minutes or longer.
“All of our election workers always wear masks and practice social distancing,” said DeBeauvoir. “So there’s no contact with voters that’s close enough or extended enough for them to be exposed.”
The clerk said there is no evidence that any other poll workers or voters got sick from the situation.
“This is a horrible circumstance for us,” said DeBeauvoir. “This is our poll worker, our employee that we just lost. We are devastated and we need to spend our time dealing with our loss and doing everything we can to help this family.”
The Perez family said they reached out to KXAN because Patricia would’ve wanted people to hear her story.
“Now, she doesn’t have a voice,” said Adrianne. “And today we are being that voice for her.”
They also want the public to know that COVID-19 is deadly, and people’s actions matter.
“I’m hopeful that with early voting approaching us again that word is going out, as with any workplace, don’t come if you have symptoms,” said Doggett.
The Perez family has set up a GoFundMe page for Patricia’s medical and funeral expenses.