Central Coast family loses 3 loved ones to COVID in weeks

Surviving vulnerable family members wait to get vaccinated amid slow vaccine rollout
Posted at 8:29 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 18:59:10-05

Most people would like to forget 2020. For David Cuellar and his wife, Tara, they're hanging on to happy memories from last year when their family was complete.

Cuellar Family

There was 66-year-old Raul "Rudy" Cuellar, a father, family man and friendly neighbor. David fondly talks about his father. "He was the best. He knew how to take care of all of us." David adds, "You can't go anywhere with him because if he saw somebody he knew, he would stop and talk and talk."

There was also Margie Cuellar, who David's sister described as a caring social worker and a dedicated mother. Tara says her sister-in-law, Margie, loved her daughter very much. "Her daughter was her world," David said. "Her (Margie) and my dad would take my niece down to Disneyland at least three times a year."

Then there was Raul Cuellar Jr. or "Junior," David's brother and an award-winning barbecuer. David talked about the time when Junior and him first started joining BBQ Competitions. "One day he asked me. he goes, 'Hey, if I start a barbecue competition team, are you down?' I didn't even hesitate. I'm just like, 'Yeah! Let's do this.'" Tara adds, "They compete and they compete well."

Within a month, the three beloved family members who lived together died because of COVID-19. "It's just been mind-blowing how quickly all three of them got sick," David said.

Rudy, Margie, and Junior Cuellar

The family does not know exactly where Junior contracted the virus. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 before Christmas and was hospitalized two days later. Within a few days, Margie and Rudy also tested positive. They were both hospitalized on New Year's Day. All three passed away in January. "There's no words.... It just completely blew everyone away," Tara said.

The Arroyo Grande family, still reeling from their unimaginable loss, is now in a race against time to get the COVID vaccine. David, 38, has congestive heart failure, which makes him more likely to suffer from severe complications should he contract the virus.

Tara has her own health issues as well. "It is very scary. David is my sole caretaker for me and the kids. Our lives would be devastated without him. I have an autoimmune disorder. I cannot start my immunosuppressant medication until I get this vaccine."

California is expanding vaccine access to those with disabilities and high risk health conditions starting March 15. However, the supply remains very limited nationwide.

Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County's Public Health Officer, said Wednesday, "We intend to move forward for individuals with certain medical conditions and disabilities as soon as we have enough vaccine to do that, of all ages. And they would come ahead of the general population."

For now, the Cuellars can only hope their prayers will be answered soon.

In the meantime, while they're taking all the precautions needed, they're urging the public to be cautious. "Wear your mask. Social distance, please," David says. "I know some people are not taking it seriously," Tara added. David emphasized, "When it wipes out your whole family, you're going to know."

Santa Barbara County also plans to vaccinate those with disabilities and health conditions in March when they become eligible.