Gerry Rangel had been self-isolating at home since Dec. 21 when he was diagnosed with COVID-19, but on Christmas Day, his symptoms took an alarming turn.

The 39-year-old bartender and longtime YMCA counselor started to feel lightheaded and dizzy, according to his younger brother, Oscar.

The Rangel family, who lives in Downtown Long Beach, phoned a nurse to go over Gerry’s symptoms. Soon, paramedics arrived and loaded him into the ambulance to check his vitals.

Gerry’s blood pressure was low, Oscar said, but the medics didn’t take him to a hospital where beds were already overflowing to the point that patients were being triaged in tents. Instead, they told him to rest and call urgent care if he felt worse, according to Oscar.

At 6 a.m. the next day, Gerry—who had underlying health conditions—said he was feeling tired and just wanted to rest, Oscar said. At 11 a.m., his father went to check on him, but found that his son had died. His body was already cold.

“It’s life-changing, man,” Oscar said. “It just hits you, especially right now during the holidays. It’s been terrible, man. This whole time we’ve been cautious, but we’ve all been hit by it.”

Gerry Rangel. Courtesy photo his family.

Gerry’s sudden death shocked his family. The pain was compounded by the fact that Gerry’s uncle also died from COVID-19 complications three days later.

When the family called the mortuary to handle the uncle’s body, Oscar said, there was a moment of confusion where they had to explain—no, we’re not calling for Gerry. Yes, this is the second loved one we’ve lost to COVID in less than a week.

In the end, Oscar said, they had to wait six hours for service from the mortuary, many of which are overwhelmed by families seeking funeral accommodations.

Gerry and his uncle are just two of the 391 coronavirus deaths reported in Long Beach this year. More than 100 of those deaths have been recorded just in the last month. Eleven were reported Wednesday alone.

At least one hospital in Long Beach has already brought in a freezer truck to store the growing number of corpses. In Los Angeles County, the National Guard is deploying troops to assist with administrative duties at the coroner’s office, which is helping with “a backup of dead bodies at a variety of facilities and hospitals across the county,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services, said Wednesday.

“This is real, you know,” Oscar said.

After the twin blow of grief, the Rangel family is asking for help.

“Gerry was the kindest, sweetest friend with an infectious personality that could light up a room,” the family wrote in an online fundraiser to cover funeral and other expenses. “He had an enormous heart, always finding the positive in situations. This made it easy to adore him. Everywhere he went, people knew and loved him.”

Gerry was well known after working multiple jobs in the service industry, including bartending at Shannon’s on Pine and for years working at Sevilla Nightclub in Downtown Long Beach. From bartending to club bouncer, Gerry made many friends as he worked.

He had graduated from Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach and was studying for a master’s degree in behavioral therapy at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology online.

Maybe most memorable was Gerry’s “shining” spirit, according to his family. He cared about people and had a knack for bringing them together and making them laugh.

“He worked for the YMCA camp for numerous years—he was a camp counselor,” Oscar said. “He was involved with the Boy Scouts in Big Bear. He was loved in so many different outlets.”

Even before Gerry’s death, his family was in grief. His older brother, Victor, had died in March from heart failure, they said.

Now the pain is intensified by a worldwide pandemic that stole two more of their loved ones. It’s led Oscar to offer some cautionary advice: The pain of losing family members to the virus is not worth gathering with others and risking infection—even around the holidays.

“Don’t get together to see the family one more year instead of seeing them one last time,” Oscar said.