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Coronavirus Victims: Meatpacker And Father Of 6 Saul Sanchez


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).


That's the sound of a street performer playing on a cobblestone road overlooking the city of Zacatecas, Mexico. Seventy-seven-year-old Saul Sanchez drops some money in the musician's bucket and then dances alongside him in the rain.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Happy, Dad? (ph)


Saul's daughter, Betty Rangel, took that video on a trip back to Mexico for his birthday in October of last year.




SHAPIRO: Meat processing plants have had some of the most intense outbreaks of the coronavirus in the U.S., and Saul is one of thousands of meatpacking workers who contracted COVID-19. He died on April 7 of this year.

BETTY RANGEL: My dad's originally from Rio Grande, Zacatecas. He met my mom in Juarez, Mexico. And there's six of us - three girls, three boys.

CHANG: Back in Juarez, Saul was a manager at a pharmaceutical company, and his wife owned a retail store. Life was good.

RANGEL: He hosted some of the biggest parties. He was a community person. He gave back all the time in Juarez.

SHAPIRO: But in 1973, Betty's younger sister Patty got sick and needed urgent treatment in the U.S.

RANGEL: And then all of the sudden, he moves here and he's laying sod and working in chickens - you know, never practically wore a tie again. You know, he sacrificed a lot so my sister could have better health care.

CHANG: Eventually, their family moved to Greeley, Colo., where Saul worked at the JBS meat processing plant.

SHAPIRO: His family knew that Saul was well-liked at work. But since his death, Betty he's been getting calls from strangers with stories about Saul's kindness, like a man who showed up to work with little more than his own two hands.

RANGEL: He said that his first day there at work, he didn't have any food or anything, and my dad gave him his lunch. He just took care of people. You know? He was very selfless.

CHANG: Saul is one of seven JBS employees who have died from COVID-related causes. Betty says she's been frustrated by the way the company dealt with the pandemic and specifically the people who got sick there.

RANGEL: The hospital is filling up with people from JBS, and they do not care. They're making them go to work.

CHANG: JBS disputes this characterization.

SHAPIRO: When Saul got sick in mid-March, his health quickly declined, and he had to be put on a ventilator in a hospital.

CHANG: His family wasn't supposed to be able to visit him in his final days. But one of his daughters is a nurse at that hospital, so she was able to be with Saul until the very end.

RANGEL: I don't know what pain is worse - my sister Patty to have sat there and watched them take him off the ventilator and watched him take his last breath or for us that we weren't able to be there and hold his hand and tell him how much we loved him.

SHAPIRO: Saul and his family did exchange messages back and forth in his final days. His last words to his family were...


SAUL SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

SHAPIRO: "I love you very much. We'll see what happens."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.