Remembered- COVID-19 Deaths in Pasco County

May 27, 2020

By: Kimberly Moore, Special to The Free Press

DADE CITY – Dwight Sawinski, 73, was rushed to the hospital on May 11th with a fever, flu symptoms, and an altered mental status.

Doctors intubated the Marine Corps veteran and put him in the intensive care unit.  He tested positive for COVID-19 two days later.  Sawinski, who had been awarded the purple heart for his service, never woke up and died in the ICU on May 18th. The primary cause of death listed is the pandemic virus that has killed 13 other people in Pasco County, 2,319 in Florida and nearly 100,000 nationwide in the span of about 3 ½ months.

Sawinski is the most recent and 14th Pasco County COVID-19 death. Like six other patients who died, Sawinski, was a nursing home resident.  Like 12 other patients, he had underlying health issues that were listed as contributing factors in his death, including cardiovascular disease, dementia and a brain lesion. And like 12 other patients, he was over age 60 and white.

“To my brother: You left us too soon through no fault of yours,” his brother, Gerard Sawinski of Sterling Heights, Michigan, wrote on the funeral home website. “You were taken by a virus that has no heart or conscious and doesn’t care. Because of it, we are unable to be there physically but we will be spiritually. You are already missed but will never be forgotten.”

According to the Florida Department of Health and the District Six Medical Examiner’s Office, which includes Pinellas and Pasco counties, at least four of the nursing home deaths were from Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City and all died within days of each other:

–          Sarah Pasquariello, 92-year-old white female, died April 27th

–          Otis Jackson, 85-year-old white male, died April 24th

–          Bernard Petereit, 71-year-old white male, died on April 28th

–          Patricia Chumas, 72-year-old white female, died on April 29th

The Florida Department of Health lists six deaths for Royal Oak. One other assisted living facility in Pasco County – Heartland of Zephyrhills – has had one death.

One man, Jose Huertas La Rosa, a 71-year-old white male, had no underlying medical conditions. He was admitted to the Medical Center of Trinity on April 3rd and declined over the span of nearly a month with acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. He died on April 29 and tested positive post-mortem for COVID-19.

At 56 years old, Darla Perry, a white female, was Pasco County’s youngest death from COVID-19. Perry went to the hospital from home on April 9th with a cough, fever, and shortness of breath. She tested positive for the virus. Her condition declined over three weeks and she died on May 4th. The cause of death is COVID-19, with contributing causes of asthma, obesity, arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and multiple sclerosis.

“Darla was creative and showed this with her love to scrapbook and sew. She also enjoyed traveling, cruising, and going to Disney,” her family wrote in her obituary. “Darla loved going to the beach and seeing the water; one of her favorite spots was Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. She would also spend time in the kitchen baking. Many loved her famous pumpkin oatmeal raisin cookies.”

Darla lost her husband, Tyler Perry, in 2009. She is survived by her parents, Don and Maxine Higley, along with her four children, Abby, Drew, Hollie, and Joscelyn.

On May 4th, Pasco County began a phase 1 reopening. Long-term-care facilities continue to forbid any visitors and hospitals are required to test any patient before sending them to a nursing home or assisted living facility. In addition, long-term-care facilities are “required to transfer COVID-19 positive residents if the facility is not equipped for appropriate care.”

According to Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore, Paso County restaurants are open at 50% capacity, with outdoor seating encouraged.  Retail stores, museums, libraries, gyms, and fitness centers can also operate at half their normal capacity.

Elective surgeries may continue if a facility has adequate personal protection equipment, hospital-bed capacity and works with the local community to prevent and/or contain outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Barber shops, hair salons and nail salons are also open, with health precautions in place. Pasco County Public Schools students are continuing with distance learning.

“Thanks to your social distancing efforts during our April stay-at-home order, Pasco was in a strong position to slowly and safely reopen,” Moore said in a prepared statement. “Please know, we’re using the latest data to guide our decisions and we’ll be monitoring the progress carefully. Regardless of where you go, we all still need to practice social distancing. We understand it’s been a difficult time for all of you.”

Moore urged Pasco residents to continue to social distancing. Residents can check for updates at MyPasco.net or call 727-847-2411.

Pasco COVID-19 Cases: 373

Total Pasco Deaths: 14 (source – District Six Medical Examiner’s Office)

Hospitalizations: 78

Royal Oak Nursing Center – 6 deaths

Heartland of Zephyrhills — 1 death

1.       Rosemarie Gabriele, 71-year-old white female, died March 24th – Gabriele had traveled to Virginia, where she had attended a gathering on March 9th where person(s) had tested positive for COVID-19.  She went to the hospital on March 19th with a fever and flu symptoms and tested positive on March 22 while in the hospital. She developed acute respiratory distress syndrome.  Her cause of death was COVID-19, with contributing conditions of diabetes and asthma. She had a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.

2.       Keshwar Dhalu, 67-year-old white male, died March 27th. Dhalu had driven to New York with his wife, who also contracted COVID-19, and a friend in early March. He was admitted to the hospital with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cough and confirmed COVID-19 positive at the hospital on March 14. Cause of death was listed as COVID-19, with contributing factors of diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.  He had a history of diabetes. His wife recovered.

3.       Leon Gridley, 83-year-old white male, died on April 3rd – Gridley came down with a fever and weakness at home and collapsed on March 24th and was rushed to the hospital.  The Pasco County Health Department conducted a test for COVID-19 , which returned positive on March 30th.  The Army veteran developed pneumonia and was placed on a ventilator. He was placed under hospice care at the hospital and died on April 3. Cause of death was listed as COVID-19, with contributing factors of hypertensive cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Read his obituary at https://beyersfuneralhome.com/book-of-memories/4192697/Gridley-Leon/index.php

4.       Shirley Gostinger, 82-year-old white female, died April 10th – In late March, she had a heart attack and was treated at the hospital for several days and discharged, but returned to the hospital with respiratory issues on April 7th. Her COVID-19 test came back positive the day she died. Cause of death is listed as COVID-19, with contributing conditions of arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Cristos Stefos, 64

5.       Cristos Stefos, 64-year-old white male, died on April 26th. —  He was admitted to the hospital on April 17th, where he was swabbed and tested positive for COVID 19.  As the days progressed, he needed more oxygen and on April 24th, he was intubated and placed flat on a bed, with a bi-level ventilator.  He died two days later, with the cause of death listed as COVID-19 and contributing conditions of arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. See his obituary at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/new-port-richey-fl/cristos-stefos-9153015

6.       Steven Fusco, 66-year-old white male, died April 25th – Fusco traveled to his girlfriend’s in Pasco County to escape the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, where he lived.  He began feeling ill and went to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, where he tested positive for COVID 19. He was sent home with oxygen. A visiting nurse also went to the home.  On April 23rd, the nurse found him unresponsive. He was rushed to North Bay Hospital, where he declined and died two days later.  Cause of death is listed as COVID-19, with diabetes a contributing factor.

7.       Sarah Pasquariello, 92-year-old white female, died April 27th – Pasquariello lived in Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City and went to the hospital on April 22nd for an abnormal EKG.  She was treated and returned to the nursing home. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent back to the hospital the next day for low oxygen and lethargy.  She declined at the hospital and was placed under hospice care. Cause of death is COVID-19, with contributing conditions of arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Otis Jackson, 85

8.       Otis Jackson, 85-year-old white male, died April 24th – Jackson was taken from Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City to the hospital on April 18th. He had shortness of breath and an altered mental state. He was placed under hospice care and six days later.  Cause of death was COVID-19, with contributing conditions of metastatic lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes He also had a history of cardiovascular disease.

9.       Bernard Petereit, 71-year-old white male, died on April 28th – Petereit lived in Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City and complained for one week of a fever, and cough, and developed shortness of breath.  She tested positive for COVID-19.  She was transferred to the hospital on April 16th and died 12 days later. Cause of death was listed as COVID-19, with contributing conditions of arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes.

10.   Patricia Chumas, 72-year-old white female, died on April 29th – Chumas lived at Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City and was sent to the hospital after testing positive on April 24th. Arrived at the hospital with shortness of breath. Sent to palliative care and died three days later. Cause of death is COVID-19, with contributing causes of hypertension, diabetes, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and liver cirrhosis.

Darla Perry, 56,

11.   Darla Perry, 56-year-old white female, died May 4th – Perry went to the hospital from home on April 9th with a cough, fever, and shortness of breath. She tested positive for COVID 19. Her condition declined over three weeks. Cause of death is COVID-19, with contributing causes of asthma, obesity, arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and multiple sclerosis.

12.   Jose Huertas La Rosa, 71-year-old white male, died April 29 – Huertas La Rosa was admitted to Medical Center of Trinity on April 3rd and declined with acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. He had no previous medical conditions. He tested positive post-mortem for COVID-19. See his obituary at https://www.bozaroel.com/obituaries/Jose-Huertas-La-Rosa/#!/Obituary

Georgia Mosely, 73

13.   Georgia Mosely, 73-year-old black female, died May 14th – She lived at a long-term-care facility and was transported to Advent Health on April 22nd with renal failure.  She had previously had a kidney transplant, and also suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension and dementia.  Mosely tested positive for COVID 19 and continued to decline until her death on May 14th under hospice care in the hospital. Her cause of death is complications of arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, with contributing causes of COVID-19, dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. See her obituary at https://www.tributearchive.com/obituaries/14177608/Georgia-Lee-Mosely

14.   Dwight Sawinski, a 73-year-old white male, died May 18th – Sawinski was a nursing home resident who was taken to the hospital on May 11th with a fever, flu symptoms, and altered mental status. He was intubated and admitted to the intensive care unit.  He tested positive for COVID-19 on May 13th. He died in the hospital five days later. Cause of death is COVID-19, with contributing conditions of arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease, dementia, and neoplastic brain lesion.

Kimberly C. Moore is an investigative reporter based in Polk County.

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