The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an incalculable toll on the food industry workers of America, from restaurant servers and meat plant workers to the farmworkers who toil in fields. According to research from the University of California, San Francisco, food industry workers’ risk of dying went up by 40 percent from March to October 2020. For Latinx workers, deaths increased by 60 percent in the sector.
In this six-part series, we’re honoring the lives of those we have lost to COVID-19. This week, we have tributes to an up-and-coming chef, a jewelry-loving hospital food worker and a meatpacker who was devoted to his family.
Luis Dominguez was the heart of every kitchen he worked in.
The Mexico-born chef was an integral part of Dallas’ culinary scene, with a 20-year career “that spanned restaurants in nearly every neighborhood in town,” according to the Dallas Observer.
When Dominguez and his cousin first came to Dallas from Veracruz two decades ago, he found a job washing dishes at the Wyndham Hotel. He later went on to work at Tillman’s, Hattie’s, Chicken Scratch and Smoke, where he collaborated with James Beard Award-winning chef and owner Tim Byres. Dominguez added Southwestern and Mexican spices and flavors to Byres’ barbecue dishes that would become specialties at the restaurant and stayed at Smoke for nearly 10 years, until it closed in 2018.
“He was always one of the happiest and [most] motivated persons,” says Jerry de la Riva, who worked with Dominguez at several restaurants in Dallas. They first met in the kitchen at Tillman’s and quickly graduated from coworkers to best friends. “He was always happy, always joking, even when he was stressed out,” he says.
When Dominguez contracted COVID-19 last summer, he was working as the executive sous chef at HG Sply Co. After spending 18 days in the hospital following complications from the virus, he died on July 22, at the age of 38.
Of his many culinary talents, the rising chef had an unmatched palate, says de la Riva. “I cannot find anyone else but him with that palate,” he says. “He could identify exactly what every recipe needed.”
Dominguez is survived by his wife, Consuelo, his parents, Jesus Dominguez Mata and Josefa Garrido Andrade, and siblings Jesus and Jessica Dominguez.
“I wish he could be alive to see everything he’s done being recognized,” says de la Riva.
Marie Deus loved to accessorize with jewelry. If someone told her they liked the necklace or bracelet she was wearing, she’d take it off and tell the person to keep it. She was just that generous. Plus, she had plenty of other options at home.
Late last March, Deus called out of work sick, something she rarely did. The sneezing and coughing she was experiencing were just bad allergies, she told her sister. A longtime germaphobe, Deus always kept hand sanitizer, napkins and masks in her purse—long before the pandemic caused millions of Americans to do the same. “She was very freaky about germs,” says her younger sister Yolanda Desir. “It’s one of the reasons we thought she’d be the last person to get COVID.”
The sisters grew up in Haiti, where they always found time to play with their cousins. When their parents died at a young age, Deus made sure to look after her only sister. “She always took care of me like I was her daughter,” says Desir.
When she was in her 20s, Deus emigrated to the US to study to become a dental hygienist, and she later worked as a nursing assistant. Last spring, she was working as a food services worker at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Boston, where she helped prepare and deliver meals to patients and where it is believed she caught the virus.
By April, Deus had been hospitalized and later tested positive, as did her adult son, who battled the virus at home. Desir took care of her sick nephew and called the hospital daily to check in on her sister, hoping for good news. “I kept thinking ‘please resuscitate her for Easter.’” On April 22, Deus became the hospital’s first employee to die from COVID-19.
At the time of her death, the sisters were working to buy a house together, where they planned to live with their shared families. But the house felt strange without her sister, and Desir opted for a different one instead. Still, memories of her sister are all around.
“She was such a fun-loving person,” says Desir. “She wanted to see all the positive in people. And she always tried to feed everyone.”
Jose Andrade-Garcia was just weeks away from retiring from his job as a meatpacking worker when he contracted COVID-19 last April. Although he was experiencing flu-like symptoms, he was afraid he’d lose his job or affect his pending retirement, so he reported to work at JBS Swift & Co. in Marshalltown, Iowa, where he had worked for 20 years.
According to Alejandra Andrade, the youngest of his six children, the facility did not offer masks or personal protective gear to her father. In April 2020, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa filed an OSHA complaint about the facility’s unsafe working conditions in cutting, processing, break and dressing rooms. JBS was one of the three major meat producers to close US locations due to outbreaks. According to the Washington Post, the company did not mandate the use of masks until April 13.
Andrade-Garcia was hospitalized on April 17. He died on a ventilator a few weeks later, on May 15. He was 62. After his death, his family expressed anger toward JBS for not enforcing social distancing protocols sooner.
An immigrant from Mexico, Andrade-Garcia came to the States to work and send money home for his family. He eventually returned to get his wife and their five children and bring them to Iowa, where the couple had another daughter, Alejandra.
“He was an amazing father,” says Andrade. “He always taught us to work for our stuff. If we wanted something or needed a car, he told us to go work for it.”
Nearly a year after his death, his family gathered to celebrate what would have been his 63rd birthday on April 22. “We remember him every day,” says Andrade. “We remember everything that he taught us.”