9 Investigates

At least 4 who left New York area in late March, early April for Orlando area have died of COVID-19

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — When the coronavirus cases started to surge in New York, the Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to discourage traffic from the area.

9 Investigates discovered that at least four people who left the area in late March and early April for the Orlando area have died of COVID-19. Luis Castillo, Daniel Nelson, Virgilio German and Maria Santiago, all flew or drove into the Orlando area from parts of New York or New Jersey.

Sixty-eight-year-old Maria Santiago’s family convinced her to leave New York City for Orlando because she was living alone, suffering from a number of other illnesses and kept falling.

Read: Seminole County encouraging everyone to get tested for COVID-19, symptomatic or not

“We were just like at least here, you know, in Florida it’s not as bad as New York right now and you can get the attention you know. That is one of the reasons she said, ‘Alright, I’m ready to go,’” Her daughter Miriam Moreno told investigative reporter Daralene Jones.

She never made it to her daughter’s house because she was rushed to Advent Health hospital when her flight landed in Orlando from New York City in early April.

“I get a phone call from the stewardess letting me know that they had paramedics there with her and they would be transporting her directly to the hospital,” Moreno said.


Moreno had been looking forward to having her mom here because she hadn’t seen her in two years. Santiago’s older age made it difficult for her to travel.

Two weeks before her death, DeSantis had signed an executive order requiring people from the Connecticut, New Jersey, New York areas to self-quarantine for 14 days. At that time, New York City alone had nearly 6,000 coronavirus cases.

“I didn’t think it was COVID-19. And I definitely was praying that it wasn’t. Very disappointed that we couldn’t actually see her. It was heartbreaking,” Moreno said.

Read: Home or hospital? COVID-19 spurs increased interest in out-of-hospital births

Two others coming from New York and New Jersey arrived here after that governor’s order. Castillo showed up at the hospital short of breath days after returning from New Jersey. He was tested for COVID-19 and was discharged.

The next day, the test came back positive and he was readmitted again because of shortness of breath, then transferred to ICU and put on a ventilator.

Virgilio German told doctors he flew to Orlando to escape the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, but died anyway, nearly a month later. Nelson had only been in town from up north a day or two before he was rushed to a hospital in Kissimmee and later succumbed to the virus.

Moreno still hasn’t received her mother’s ashes, but has an urn, surrounded by flowers already prepared at her Tavares home.