NYC nurse on coronavirus front lines dies from COVID-19 after texting sister 'I'm okay'

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention former director Tom Frieden said the response to the pandemic is missing guidance from the CDC. USA TODAY

A nurse on the front line of battling the coronavirus pandemic in New York has died from complication from the virus.

Mount Sinai West emergency room nurse Kious Kelly, 48, died Tuesday after fighting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Kelly's sister, Marya Patrice Sherron, told The New York Times that her brother had asthma but was otherwise well. "You were the best big brother a sister could ask for," she wrote in a Facebook post.

"You loved your nephews well. You have always been my role model. There is so much I want the world to know about you. ... I have indescribable pain. So alone without you. You made the world better," she wrote.

Sherron told the Times that her brother texted her last Wednesday that he had tested positive for the new coronavirus and was on a ventilator. "I'm okay. Don't tell Mom and Dad. They'll worry,” he texted.

In New York City, there have been at least 23,112 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday evening, leading to at least 365 known deaths, according to the city.

New York has become the epicenter of the United States outbreak of COVID-19 as doctors and nurses have worked tirelessly to battle the deadly disease. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the state will need more ventilators to adequately treat all patients. And while supplies of masks and other protective equipment were adequate this week, hospitals could run out soon, he said.

“The burn rate on this equipment is very, very high. I can't find any more equipment. It's not a question of money. I don't care what you're willing to pay,” Cuomo said a news conference Tuesday.

However, some New York nurses have said they're already facing shortages of masks and other protective equipment, having to ration their use and being asked to wear single-use masks for up to a week.

"They’re being asked to do things that jeopardize their health and make it hard to take care of their patients,” said Mary-Lynn Boyts, a nurse at Westchester Medical Center who gathers nurse grievances for the New York State Nurses Association union.

"You wouldn’t ask police to go into a gun battle without a gun, but we’re being asked to put our lives on the line each day without the equipment that we need to do it."

At Mount Sinai West, where Kelly worked, the hospital denied a report that staff were facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, including the masks, gloves and gowns health care professionals wear to stay safe from the highly contagious virus. 

"This crisis is straining the resources of all New York area hospitals and while we do – and have had – enough protective equipment for our staff, we will all need more in the weeks ahead," the hospital said in a statement.

An article in The New York Post included a photo of what appears to be three health care professionals donning black garbage bags. The paper reported the photo was of nurses from Mount Sinai West and shared on social media with the caption: "NO MORE GOWNS IN THE WHOLE HOSPITAL."

In its statement, the hospital said all staff are given the equipment needed to do their jobs safely. "In fact, the troubling photo circulating in the media specifically shows the nurses in proper PPE underneath garbage bags," the hospital said.

Still, Sherron, Kelly's sister, said her brother's death "could have been prevented."

Kelly was remembered as a compassionate friend and colleague to other nurses. Sherron shared Facebook posts of other nurses who called Kelly "gentle and friendly," "a phenomenal nurse" and someone who was "so full of life and always went above and beyond for his patients, his staff and his fellow nurses."

In a January article shared on Mount Sinai's website, the family member of a patient of Kelly's called him "an angel."

The patient's mother wrote: "Assistant Nurse Manager Kious Jordan Kelly, RN, showed my mom and us empathy and compassion that helped us get through the weekend and what was to come. He went above and beyond and is an asset to the hospital.”

In the article, Kelly is quoted saying: "Unfortunately, in many cases, my team and I cannot change an outcome, but especially in these challenging moments, we can alter the experience."

Contributing: Frank Esposito and David Robinson, Rockland/Westchester Journal News


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