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Date of Issue: July 29, 2009

Island worker's death H1N1-related

A Sarasota man who worked at the Publix Super Market in Holmes Beach was the area’s second H1N1 flu-related death.

Jorge Francisco Hernandez, 47, an assistant store manager described by colleagues and customers as a generous guy with twinkling eyes, died July 15.

The Sarasota County Health Department confirmed the H1N1-related death of a 47-year-old man July 15, and, has not reported any additional deaths.

Co-workers and family confirmed the identity of the man as Jorge Francisco Hernandez, who is survived by wife of 27 years, Connie Jo; daughter Jessica; son Joshua; father Mario B. of Michigan; mother Juana R. of Sarasota; brother Alex of Sarasota; sister Sandra T. Perez of Sarasota; three nephews and three nieces.

Service and burial took place July 19, with many co-workers attending and many local residents sharing condolences.

“We’re obviously mourning the death and trying to take care of the family,” said local Publix manager Mark Bryant.

Shannon Patten, a spokeswoman for Publix, said, “The Publix family is saddened by the loss of one of our associates. Jorge was well liked by his fellow associates and customers and he will be greatly missed.”

A friend, Siobhán Griffin-Lloyd of Port Orange, remembered Hernandez saying some years ago, “If I died right now, I’d die the happiest man alive” and that he said often he “had everything you needed.”

Thoughts and remembrances for Hernandez and his family on the Legacy.com Web site offered a portrait of the husband, father, uncle, son and “Publix man, through and through.”

“I will miss seeing him around and talking to him during my check outs. He always treated me as a loyal customer and showed respect when doing so,” said Ron Knight of Holmes Beach. “His passing will be a loss to both family and to the store, and employees he enjoyed working with.”

Terry Hawthorne of Anna Maria said, “Many people out here on Anna Maria Island will remember Jorge for the good-hearted person he was. He will be dearly missed and always remembered.”

Hernandez’s son, Joshua, said, “We could fill volumes with stories about my father and his kind and caring love. He touched countless people, and lent his affections to many.”

Joshua Hernandez, writing on Legacy.com, said his father was devoted to his family, teaching him how to love, and he was “a Publix man, through and through.”

“I remember being told by one of my fellow cashiers the story of a family who came through the checkout without enough money to cover their bill,” he said. “They were a young couple with tattered clothes and a barefoot child and they were trying to decide whether to put the milk or the cereal back to bring the bill under their $11 budget.

“My father, a manager, came upon this scene and inquired as to the problem. With tears in his eyes, he took the family to the side and told them to pick out two weeks worth of groceries. When they came through the line a second time, he produced his wallet and told them he would cover the bill. I heard stories like this about my dad often and always wondered how many went untold. From my father, I learned the way a man should love a stranger.”

Sarasota County has reported one other death associated with H1N1 and 11 cases.

Since H1N1 was identified, Manatee County Health Department reported 25 total cases and no deaths. Most recently, parents of day campers in a program at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton received letters stating that a participant had swine flu.

Health officials said last week that while most cases of H1N1 Flu are mild, there are exceptions.

“These deaths are tragic and a sobering reminder that influenza is serious, and can be fatal. Our staff continues to monitor this disease in our community, and reminds residents to take precautions to avoid the flu,” said Dr. William Heymann, medical executive director for the Sarasota County Health Department.

Health department officials also emphasized that though a case might be associated with a particular area or worksite, the H1N1 pandemic is not isolated and that everyday actions must be taken by people to protect themselves and the population.

People experiencing cough, fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and sore throat, possibly along with diarrhea and vomiting, should contact a doctor to discuss whether they need to be seen in the office, emergency department or stay home.

Those with respiratory illness should stay home and away from work, day care or summer programs to avoid spreading infections, including influenza. Postpone travel plans if ill, or family members become ill.

Health officials advised that people stay home for a week after symptoms begin or 24 hours after they are symptom-free, whichever is longer.

The health department also recommended:

• Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or otherwise appear ill.

• Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth.

• Wash hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand cleaners to reduce the spread of respiratory illness.

• Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue or use the inside of the elbow when coughing or sneezing.

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