Famed Covid press conference sign language interpreter dies of the virus


A sign language interpreter who helped to keep deaf people informed during Covid press conferences has herself died of the virus.

Patty Sakal, 62, from Hawaii, died on Friday after contracting coronavirus during a trip to see her family in California.

She was a familiar face on TV in Hawaii for the islands’ coronavirus news conferences over the last ten months. Her work to interpret the latest Covid news from state officials for deaf residents helped many with hearing problems keep up to date.

A child to deaf parents, Patty lived in Honolulu and worked as an American Sign Language interpreter for nearly 40 years.

She contracted the virus on January 1, a week after landing in California where she traveled to see her youngest daughter who was due for a nine-month deployment with the US Navy.

Patty wanted to see her before the deployment, according to her elder sister Lorna Riff, 68. She said Patty was ‘extremely nervous’ to make the trip and took extra precautions during her journey.

Covid nurse, Lorna, said her sister wore a face mask and a face shield, and bought a first-class ticket so she would be separated from other passengers, reports the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Patty arrived in Los Angeles, California on December 23 and after testing positive on January 1, she developed a severe gastrointestinal illness.

Lorna said Patty then became delirious. She said: ‘She (Patty) was clearly suffering from hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and not able to care for herself at all.’

Patty was rushed to a private 300-bed hospital in California, but all the ICU beds were full so she never left the emergency room, Lorna claims. Two days later, she was on a ventilator.

Lorna added: ‘Patty apparently had some underlying health issues that she was not even aware that she had and the virus just took hold of those and ravaged her.

‘For six hours she was stable, for the next six hours she wasn’t. It was just this constant seesaw of good news, bad news. On Thursday it was clear, it was very unlikely Patty would make it.”

The nurses at the hospital where Patty died arranged for the family to have a Zoom viewing of their loved one during her final hours. The family then made the tough decision to turn off the medical equipment and ‘let her go more peacefully and with more dignity.’

Since the pandemic began Hawaii has recorded 325 fatalities and 24,620 cases due to coronavirus.

In the US, 24.4 million cases have been recorded since March along with 406,000 deaths.

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