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Remembering The Utahns We’ve Lost: Paul Mokofisi

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Paul Mokofisi was scared. He’d told friends he knew a man of his size would likely not survive COVID-19. But despite his fears, family members said he could have been more cautious.

“My sister always wore a mask. And my brother did, but it was not all the time,” Teresa Mokofisi-Thompson said.

Both he and his sister worked with the same in-home care client who eventually tested positive for the virus. Mokofisi contracted it. His sister did not.

Family members believe if he’d been more diligent, he might still be alive.

“I think a lot of people were intimidated by him just because of how his stature was so big,” Mokofisi-Thompson said of her older brother. “But I think that was as big as what his heart was.”

Paul Mokofisi died from COVID-19 just days before his 42nd birthday.

The 41-year-old used that big heart of his in his work as a caregiver for disabled adults.

“He was just so loving. He loved everybody,” said Mokofisi-Thompson.

Paul Mokofisi was exposed to the virus in mid-June. Days later, around June 17-18, he started showing symptoms of COVID-19. On June 20, test results confirmed he had contracted the disease. Only eight days later, he was gone. He never even made it to the hospital.

“It was hard when we found out about it. We just couldn’t see him,” remembered his sister.

Mokofisi quarantined in a home with a few other family members who also tested positive. But even in that house, he kept his distance, and passed away silently on a Sunday afternoon.

“My brother being by himself, I think is what kind of hurt me the most,” said Mokofisi-Thompson. “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would all be together. We would all be in the same room or we would be watching him a little bit closer.”

It’s difficult for a big Polynesian family to be kept apart during a time of sadness and suffering.

“We want to be together to mourn together,” Mokofisi-Thompson said.

The family was still waiting to hold memorial services for Mokofisi. They are trying to raise money for the funeral and hoping loved ones will take precautions as they pay their respects.

“We want to stress the importance of being safe,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to have to go through what we went through.”

Mokofisi-Thompson admitted even she could have taken the virus more seriously than she did. At work in a hospital, she said she followed all of the guidelines, wore a mask and washed her hands regularly.

“I did all those things while I was at work,” she said. “Once I left work, it stayed at work. Now that this has happened to me, I think I’m more in tune to doing these things and reminding my family to do these things. Because we don’t want to catch it or if we had it, we don’t want somebody else to get it from us.”

Through an impassioned plea on Facebook and by sharing her brother’s story, she hopes to convince others in the Pacific Islander community that the virus is dangerous and deadly.

“We take it lightly until it happens to us,” she said.

Mokofisi died days before his 42nd birthday.

He is just one of nearly 200 Utahns who have lost their lives to COVID-19. KSL hopes to honor and remember each of those people. If you’ve lost a loved one to this virus and would like to help us share their story, please email us at covid@ksl.com.

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