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Denver man dies less than a week after positive COVID-19 test

African Americans dying at a disproportionate rate
Posted at 6:32 AM, May 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 23:01:31-04

DENVER — As Colorado begins to experience a decline in the number of hospitalizations due to the novel coronavirus, there are still hundreds of Coloradans mourning the loss of loved ones who died fighting it.

More than 60,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, including more than 800 Coloradans.

Denver resident Kareem Hawthorne, 45, is one of those victims.

His wife, Asha Hawthorne, said her husband was a great father and family man who worked at a good job.

After the first confirmed positive coronavirus case in Colorado, Kareem tried his best to protect her and their three children, Asha said.

“He brought home some masks ... He said, 'Here you go, this is for you,'” she said.

But the week of March 30, Kareem started coughing and having trouble breathing.

“We contacted his doctor, over the phone, over Zoom,” Asha said. “But the doctor said it didn’t sound like a COVID cough, that he wasn’t having COVID-19 symptoms and to just kind of isolate himself and watch as he progressed.”

Kareem’s symptoms got worse.

A few days after his virtual appointment with his primary care physician, Asha said Kareem, who had some minor underlying conditions, went to a drive-up coronavirus testing site.

He tested positive for COVID-19.

Asha said over the next couple of days, Kareem’s breathing became more labored, so he scheduled another virtual visit with his doctor who prescribed him an inhaler. But Kareem still struggled to breathe.

“It was helping a little, but on Sunday he felt body aches and tightness in his chest, so on Monday he went to the hospital,” Asha said.

Asha, who is a healthcare worker, said she was working a long shift when Kareem checked into the hospital, but ultimately her husband was told to monitor his symptoms from home.

“He was told to just kind of watch (his) symptoms … just like what the doctor said — keep watching,” she said.

Over the next two days, Kareem continued to struggle to breathe.

On April 8, less than a week from when Kareem first started showing symptoms, Asha’s son called her while she was working. Her son said that "daddy wasn't moving."

Asha rushed home, arriving before paramedics. She attempted to do CPR, but it was too late.

Kareem died just six days after testing positive for COVID-19.

“We were being proactive with everything to try to save this man’s life and it just wasn’t enough,” Asha said.

Kareem is a part of a group of COVID-19 victims dying at a higher rate in Colorado: African Americans.

During a news conference on April 13, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the African American community has been disproportionately impacted by the concentration of cases and death.

African Americans make up about 4% of Colorado’s population, but account for about 7% of the state's COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Hancock and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said they’re working with state public health officials to figure out what’s causing this issue.

But Asha said no matter what they find, her Kareem is gone.

“I just felt like he didn’t deserve this," she said. "I can’t put the blame on the hospitals, I can’t put the blame on the doctor, but I can just make people aware it’s not OK for hospitals to turn people away."

Nearly a month after Kareem’s death, with no more than 10 people present, Asha and her three kids said goodbye to him.

“COVID is still dictating how this man is going home to be with God,” said Asha. “I’ll be able to process it one day, and I’ll be able to get through this but for my kids — that’s where my heartache comes from.”

She said there are a lot of "what ifs" leftover.

“It’s a lot of 'What if we could’ve done this?' 'What could I have done better?'” she said.

Asha said she hopes other families won't need to ask themselves those same questions as the fight continues against COVID-19.

Kareem’s friends and family members started a GoFundMe to help support Asha in her new role as a single parent.

NOTE: Asha Hawthorne did not want Denver7 to name the hospital that Kareem visited out of respect for the healthcare workers still fighting the coronavirus at that facility. We reached out to the healthcare system that runs the hospital. They declined to comment due to HIPPA, but told Denver7 the majority of patients who test positive for COVID-19 are not admitted into the hospital. Most are encouraged to monitor symptoms from home.