California veterans home worker dies of COVID-19, says goodbye on FaceTime

The California Veterans Home of Yountville has suffered its first Covid death, of a beloved employee. 

Gwendolyn Robinson, 62, worked at the retirement facility for 12 years. 

Her husband, also infected, is hospitalized in intensive care.  

Robinson had reported to work the day before she went into the hospital.

"She was pretty secure about going to work because of the precautions they took there," said Robinson's son, DeLon Adams.

Employees are screened for wellness and have their temperatures checked on arrival.

"They're very careful and she always wanted to be careful for them," said Adams. 

But she came home early last Tuesday, complaining of fever and nausea.

She had also been using her inhaler for a persistent cough, which she attributed to asthma and allergies.  

Wednesday morning, at Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo, she tested positive for coronavirus.

Her daughter, who drove her to the emergency room, recalls they spoke later that day. 

"She Face-timed me and we were able to laugh and joke a little bit and we thought she was going to pull through," said Eboni Hunter, 37, who lives with her parents in Vallejo.  

"We're baffled, we didn't think it was going to happen so suddenly," said Hunter, "and to lose her so quickly is hard."

Hunter is now quarantined, weathering Covid symptoms alone, coping with the death of her mother and her father fighting for his life.  

"Her purse is still in the house, her shoes, every part of her is still there," said Hunter, her voice breaking. 

Hunter's two siblings come by with food and comfort, both of them devastated as well. 

"She was just a beautiful woman, she cared," said Adams, "and we didn't think she wasn't coming home."

Robinson had underlying conditions, asthma and a form of blood cancer, and doctors said she did not respond well to treatment. 

By Saturday, struggling to breathe and speak, she said her goodbyes to her loved ones on Facetime.

"She said she wanted to hear her grandchildren's voices," said Adams. 

"I just told her she doesn't have to fight anymore, she can walk toward the light, go get her wings, and her heart stopped," said Adams through tears. 

By that time, Keith Robinson, 61, was also in Kaiser, and the couple, together for 35 years, managed a phone call from their hospital beds before Gwen passed.    

"His one thing he told me before he was intubated was to please lay her to rest," said Hunter. 

Now a Go Fund Me is collecting donations for those expenses, with comments pouring in, praising Gwen Robinson's generous spirit.

"When she meets you you're automatically like family to her," said Hunter, describing how her mother would bring home-cooked treats to the veterans. 

She worked in the volunteer office at the sprawling campus, and enjoyed showering elderly residents with attention and all the donations she could find. 

"She said it's her way of showing her appreciation for them serving our country," said Hunter.

"Being nice and sweet and loving on them, and she loved them so much."

The facility has been on lock-down since mid-March, and Robinson had no personal contact with residents recently. 

The home has reported no infected seniors, and only two Covid-positive employees, Gwen one of them. 

"She's so missed right now you can't even imagine," said Adams, "and I had no idea how many people my mom touched."

The family doesn't expect they'll ever know how the Robinsons contracted the virus. 

Keith drives distribution trucks for the U.S. Postal Service, so his job is one possibility. 

Hunter is still recovering from her own COVID-19 symptoms: runny nose, fever, upset stomach, and a loss of taste and smell. 

But they are insignificant alongside the grief she feels as she walks around the home her mom decorated with San Francisco 49'ers gear. 

"She was my best friend," said Hunter, "and she was just here, right here."

Everything changed so swiftly, the family hopes that their loss, of a mom and grandmother of nine, will make people take the pandemic seriously. 

"I was one of those people that, I believed it but..., " hesitated Adams, "and this doesn't hit you the same until it hits close to home."

Hunter is even more direct.

"Some people still don't believe in wearing masks or social distancing, but it's real and it has devastated our family in a matter of one week."

Keith Robinson, while still sedated and intubated, is said to be improving, and doctors are optimistic he will pull through.