Her colleagues called her Celi, a devoted intensive care unit nurse who could have moved up the ladder into supervisory roles, but chose for decades to stay working close to patients, a former colleague said.
Last week, Aracely Buendia Ilagan became the first of the tight-knit group of health professionals in the Jackson Health System to succumb to COVID-19. She was 62.
"She was a spectacular nurse, wonderful human being just a gentle soul," said Martha Baker, who worked with Ilagan at Jackson decades ago. "She's our first loss and the sad thing is ... we're all scared that's probably not going to be the last."
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As president of SEIU Local 1991, Baker also has a message for people who risk contracting or spreading the virus by refusing to follow social distancing demands.
"You know it breaks my heart to see 20 people ... gathering in this gorgeous paradise we live in and basically deciding it's baloney to social distance," said Baker, whose union represents 5,000 nurses and doctors.
Nurses, doctors and others working in hospitals don't have a choice -- they are at risk of coming into contact with the virus -- but others can lessen the risk to them and others by staying apart.
Analysis of data collected by Kinsa Health, which sells web-connected thermometers, found earlier social distancing corresponds to a reduction in the spread of illness, the company said.
For weeks, the company noticed hot spots -- where the rate of fevers among users was higher than would be expected -- in areas where the number of coronoavirus patients later spiked.
South Florida remains a hot spot, along with New York, Boston and New Jersey.
There is a time lag between when symptoms, such as fever, appear and the disease progresses to where some require hospitalization.
Baker said she was aware of the Kinsa Heath data, which she called a form of testing, and hoped government officials in those red zones would take swift, strong actions.
"That's where we would go and say, 'lock down, social distancing, close the businesses, close the parks," she said.
But she has not been impressed with some governmental responses so far.
"We're on a track to lead in deaths in this world. We did the least tracking on the front end of where it is, where's the hot spots, how do we shut it down. We just sort of let it go," said. "Even in this state, our governor's letting the rest of the state (go without mandatory shutdown orders), just South Florida needs to shut down. Now, how short-sighted is that?"