Community mourns ICU nurse who died from COVID-19 amid increase in cases, testing

MIAMI (WSVN) - South Floridians who knew the Jackson Memorial Hospital nurse who died due to complications from COVID-19 are paying tribute to the longtime caregiver, as officials unveiled plans to open testing sites across the region and confirmed they ran into a problem with tests at one location.

Speaking on the phone with 7News on Sunday, Pauline Lawhorn said Araceli Buendia Ilagan, who treated her when she was a patient at the hospital, excelled at her job.

“She took care of me like I was her own,” she said. “She was a loving, caring nurse, the best I’ve seen at Jackson so far.”

Jackson Health confirmed Ilagan, who was a nurse at JMH’s intensive care unit, succumbed to the virus last week. She was 63 years old.

Lawhorn said she was heartbroken to hear the news.

“I was very sad when I heard it. My heart was, like, it dropped,” she said.

Ilagan’s loved ones believe she contracted the virus while caring for patients who were sick.

Another friend of Ilagan wrote about her dedication in a Facebook post reading in part, “You took care of my grandmother. You helped me bathe her while she was in the unit. You helped me walk her. Your dedication is insurmountable.”

On Sunday, Jackson Health reported they currently have 54 patients with coronavirus within their hospital system.

An emergency room nurse at Jackson North has also tested positive for COVID-19 and has been under quarantine.

In Fort Lauderdale, a spokesperson for Atria Willow Wood, a senior assisted living facility, said they now have 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including six residents who have died.

Mike Gentry, the facility’s senior vice president of care issued a statement that reads in part, “Our primary concern right now is supporting our residents and staff and doing everything in our power to keep them safe.”​

In an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, state officials said they’re focusing on testing in South Florida. They discussed the matter during a press conference at the site located in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Sunday evening.

“For Sunday, as of 4 o’clock, we’ve had 339 tests here,” said Mike Jachles, who spoke on behalf of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

But Jachles said not everything has gone according to plan. He said some tests that were administered at the Hard Rock Stadium site on Monday and Tuesday were rejected.

“There were some tests that were done in a bacterial culture medium, that should have been done in a viral culture medium when this site opened up early on,” said Jachles.

Jachles said they have reached out to the people who need to be retested, but he stressed that those tested at the Miami Gardens location on either Monday or Tuesday who have not been contacted should call in just to make sure they do not need to be tested again.

The announcement comes as the latest numbers show more than 4,000 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state, with nearly half of those cases in South Florida. Officials said the steady incline underscores the urgency of ensuring more testing sites are set up.

“This is no joke. That virus can kill you in an instant,” said Lawhorn.

Earlier on Sunday, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told CNN that he has tested negative for COVID-19. This is the first time the mayor has tested negative for the virus since testing positive on March 13. He still needs to test negative one more time before he can end his quarantine.

State officials said they understand that a key part of protecting the public is being able to test as many people as possible. There are currently drive-thru testing locations open at Marlins Park in Miami, Hard Rock Stadium and C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines.

Additional sites are expected to open in Weston, Pompano Beach, Hialeah and Liberty City.

Most of the testing sites require appointments or that you meet certain requirements to get tested.

Anyone with questions and concerns about the coronavirus can call the Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline at 1-866-779-6121.

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