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José Antonio Reyes, A Longtime Little Havana Resident, Dies From COVID-19 At 84

Marcos Reyes
José Antonio Reyes, left, and his son, Marcos Reyes.

This post was updated today and originally written on Oct. 30.

More than 18,000 people in Florida have now died from COVID-19. We’re remembering one of them, José Antonio Reyes, who moved from Cuba to Miami in 1980, with his wife and daughter. They had a son, Marcos Reyes, in 1982 and several years later, after José Antonio and his wife divorced, he moved to Madrid, Spain, where he lived for about 20 years.

He returned to Little Havana about 10 years ago to spend time with his sister and the rest of the family.

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Reyes tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer and died Sept. 4 at 84 years old.

His son Marcos, who is now part of the advocacy group Marked by COVID, told WLRN about his dad

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

My dad was born in Varadero, Cuba, en la provincia de Matanzas. He was a political prisoner in Cuba. And he ended up coming here to Miami in 1980. My family over here requested them. And a couple years later, I came into the picture. He started his own business with my mom, you know, doing vertical blinds.

And he lived in Little Havana. That's where he moved when he moved down here in 1980. That's where he stayed, you know, close to his people. Close to the family. Because my aunts lived right next to each other, literally, house, house, house.

My daughter was very close to her grandfather. That was his only granddaughter. He had grandsons, but that was his only granddaughter.

Marcos Reyes
Marcos Reyes, left, stands with his father, José Antonio Reyes, to the right, and his daughter.

We would go to la ventanita and have fun, and, and tomarnos un café, drink some coffee and chit chat, and that was his spot.

His favorite pastime was baseball. You know, he loved to watch the Miami Marlins. He was a firm believer that where two people can eat, a third person can join, you know. Donde comen dos, tres pueden comer.

When the pandemic started in 2020, he was staying home. He would hardly go out. In late July, he had to run some errands. He had to pick up his, his medicine. I think that's where he might've come in contact with somebody that gave him the virus, because going through his texts around August 2 or 3, that's when he started feeling flu-like symptoms. On August 7, he ended up calling the paramedics for the city of Miami. They came over to test him. They did the COVID test with the swab.

The city of Miami told me it takes 10 to 14 days for the results. He couldn't talk. He was having a hard time walking. He had a fever. He ended up going to the hospital on the 14 [of August] in the morning, on Friday the 14, in the morning. They tested him at the hospital, COVID positive with double pneumonia. He was in the hospital with an oxygen mask for a few days until they put him on the ventilator.

I got that phone call on Friday the 4th, September 4th. Oh, you need to come over. He's not going to make it, come over. So I rushed over to Mercy Hospital and I was able to be there. I was able to touch him and I'm just grateful to the hospital every day I was able to be there with him when he passed.

He stopped communicating, like talking, on the 17 of August, which he called me that day. He said that he was doing OK and for me to pay his electric bill because it was due that day. And then when we hung up, I texted in Spanish but I said, 'Dad, you're going to get out of the hospital, you're gonna be fine, and then we're going to go to Versailles and have a cafecito. And I love you.' I miss him. I miss him.

I do blame the failed leadership from the governor to the president. Being a Cuban-American, I was raised to be a Republican, but this is failed leadership. It's unexcusable for a county paramedic or a city paramedic to issue you a COVID test, and those results take 10 to 14 days, especially on the elderly. I'm still waiting for the results, by the way, they never called his cell phone.

Our conversations, every since the elections have started, were very political because he was a Trump supporter. He was a Republican and I was not. The last time I saw my father and live and well was Father's Day of this year.

My last conversation to him as I was leaving his house was, 'Dad I'm gonna vote for Biden.' And he looked me straight in the eye. He said, 'You need to vote for Trump.' I'm like, uh, no. 'Chico que vas...Don't don't do that. Don't do that. And if you do it, don't tell me.' I was like, OK. So I shook his hand, I gave him a hug and I said I'll call you soon.

To me this election is personal. But listen, whether you vote red or blue or independent or whatever. I respect your belief. I respect your views, but just vote.


This is part of our ongoing series of remembrances of those in — and close to — our South Florida community taken by COVID-19.

We’d like to remember more of your loved ones. Tell us about them in an email. You can send a note to talktous@wlrnnews.org Write COVID MEMORY in the subject line.

You can also fill out the form below. Stay safe and take care.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.