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Pasco Man Surprised To See Florida Announce His Coronavirus Death

Patch logo Patch 3/21/2020 D'Ann Lawrence White
a person standing in front of a stereo on a table: Gene Della Sala said his kids are keeping occupied watching movies in the home theater he built. © Gene Della Sala Gene Della Sala said his kids are keeping occupied watching movies in the home theater he built.

LAND O' LAKES, FL — Despite the Florida Department of Health reporting his death Friday, 46-year-old Land O' Lakes resident Gene Della Sala, the first Pasco County resident to test positive for the coronavirus, said he's feeling "90 percent better."

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," he said lightly, using Star Trek character Capt. Jean Luc Picard's adaptation of the famous Mark Twain quote.

Della Sala and his family were a bit taken aback when the Florida Department of Health reported his death at 6 p.m. Friday.

Four hours later, the DOH retracted the report, but not before Della Sala received a flurry of frantic phone calls from friends and family.

"There was an error in data input for the Florida Department of Health reporting system in Pasco County which has been corrected. Currently, there are no deaths related to COVID-19 in Pasco County. We apologize for the error and will continue to keep you informed," said DOH in a statement.

Della Sala, the father of two, tested positive for coronavirus March 11. The founder of the online magazine Audioholics, Della Sala said he was exposed when a potential client dropped by his home in February. The client was a 70-year-old man who recently visited China.

A few days after that visit, Della Sala said he began developing symptoms including a bad cough, stomach cramps, body chills, fatigue and diarrhea. He said the symptoms were comparable to a "bad cold" or the flu.

“I woke up and I just felt like I didn’t even sleep, I just had complete lethargy and no motivation to do anything,” he said.

Della Sala called the Florida Department of Health and his doctor, and was sent to AdventHealth Wesley Chapel for testing. He's been isolated at home since. He occupies one side of the house and his family the other.

In the 10 days since Della Sala tested positive, he said he has slowly recovered, though he continues to have some mild, lingering symptoms.

Della Sala has to be re-tested every three days and won't be cleared until he tests negative two times. He meets a technician in the parking lot of the Pasco County Health Department who takes a swab. Della Sala's last test was positive.

Until he receives two negative tests, Della Sala remains isolated from his family.

"I just stay on my side of the house," he said. "I miss playing with my (12-year-old) daughter. It sucks that I can't even hug her or my wife."

While his children are asymptomatic, his wife, who has asthma, has begun feeling ill and was tested for coronavirus Friday. The family is awaiting the results of her test.

"My wife's asthma has gotten really bad so the doctor put her on prednisone," he said "She was tested yesterday. Hopefully she doesn't have COVID-19."

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He said the most difficult part of getting a positive diagnosis is the isolation and dependence on others, especially since he's accustomed to doing things for himself.

The Internet allows him to keep up with what's going on in the world while his children spend most of their time watching movies in the home theater he built. They communicate with one another through Facetime on their iPhones.

"I'm just trying not to panic, and I'm valuing the basics in life more than ever now," he said. "I just urge kindness and support for those suffering from this illness."

One of the problems Della Sala is facing is the lack of delivery service in the area.

"I can't secure anything since I'm quarantined," he said. "Resources are scarce, especially proteins and easy stuff to cook."

Patch discovered that Instacart, which delivers groceries for Walmart and Publix, and restaurant delivery services like Uber Eats don't offer service in Della Sala's neighborhood, near the Suncoast Parkway and State Road 52.

As a result, getting groceries has been a challenge for the Della Salas and other residents in the area.

New Port Richey resident David Sutherland said he can't find a Walmart within 22 miles of his home that even offers curbside pickup services.

"Doesn't this action run counter to everything we're being told about minimizing contact during the coronavirus pandemic?" he asked. "Every day you see stories about people in a panic buying huge amounts of toilet paper and other items. Wouldn't Walmart be better able to control this impulsive behavior if they were picking these items (from delivery orders) and limiting quantities so there will be enough to go around rather than feeding the frenzy?"

He said it's especially problematic for elderly residents in the area who can't wait in line for the store to open with those intent on stockpiling supplies.

"Florida has a disproportionately large population of elderly who are proven to be most vulnerable to contact with the coronavirus," Sutherland said. "Doesn't this exacerbate the situation? Communities are always complaining about the burden Walmart adds to their infrastructure. When Walmart has the opportunity to demonstrate its value it, instead, vacates its responsibility."

If anyone knows of any grocery pickup and delivery services in this area, email editor D'Ann Lawrence White at dann.white@patch.com and we'll relay the information to residents.

See related story: 2 Test Positive For Coronavirus In Pasco County; 136 Statewide

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