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Family of Tucson's first fatal COVID-19 case: "I want her death to mean something"

She died less than an hour after being rushed to Tucson Medical Center.

Her illness kept getting worse over a few days. She tested negative for the flu and then eventually found out she had pneumonia. A lung X-ray prompted her doctor to order a COVID-19 test.

Three days later, her test result came back positive. And within minutes of arriving at the hospital, the 54-year-old woman became Tucson’s first known coronavirus-related fatality.

“She’s not just a statistic,” said the woman’s niece Olivia Meza Cannito. “She’s a human, she’s a mother, a daughter, a sister and an aunt. She was everything.”

The family, worried about the stigma attached to people who catch a disease that’s so easily transmitted and has prompted cities across the world to shut down, asked that the woman’s full name not be used in this story. The family members now find themselves in home quarantine.

They asked that the woman be identified by her last name, Anderson.

She worked as a receptionist at a pediatric clinic on the city’s east side. Her family said all she ever wanted to do was help people and she was particular about doing things to stay healthy. She was also diabetic, which put her at a higher risk for contracting the virus.

When she started to develop a fever on March 15, Anderson immediately made an appointment with her doctor. Her family said she wasn’t experiencing any cough or shortness of breath at this point.

On March 19, her doctor ran the flu and strep tests that came back negative, and did a chest X-ray. The next day, the radiology report showed that Anderson had pneumonia. Her doctor was concerned that the infection patterns on her lungs were consistent with coronavirus.