SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A South Bay family is mourning the loss of a beloved husband, father, veteran and longtime corrections officer. 55-year-old Gilbert Polanco died at a San Jose hospital Sunday morning after a long battle with COVID-19.
"Everything I have is because of him.. all the positivity he brought, all the hard work he's done," said daughter Selena Polanco.
She said her dad was an Army Veteran and started working at San Quentin when he was just 21. The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused a mass outbreak inside the prison, 24 inmates have died, 2,000 inmates infected. Selena was worried for her father's safety.
"I was scared he would get sick and this would happen," said Polanco.
Gilbert Polanco tested positive for COVID-19 in late June, he was admitted to the hospital on July 2.
Last month, Polanco was on life support in the ICU.
Selena and her mom also contracted the virus and recovered.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz expressed his condolences about Polanco's death.
"Sergeant Gilbert Polanco is an example of the best of CDCR and his passing deeply saddens us all. His dedication to public service will not be forgotten," Diaz said. "On behalf of a grateful department we extend our prayers of comfort and condolences to the Polanco family during these difficult times."
The acting warden at San Quentin said Polanco was a beloved colleague and friend.
"Our hearts are broken as we awaken to the news of the passing of our beloved Sergeant, colleague, and friend," said Acting San Quentin Warden Ron Broomfield. "Sgt. Gilbert Polanco demonstrated unwavering commitment and bravery as a peace officer working the frontline every day during this devastating pandemic. His memory is carried on in the hearts of all the men and women who continue to battle this deadly virus at San Quentin. We mourn together with his family and pray for their peace and comfort in the midst of their immeasurable loss."
Selena said, "I know San Quentin was being more reactive than proactive. I hope they can get stuff together to properly handle this."
A group of friends and co-workers started a vigil in the hospital parking lot for Gilbert Polanco. Visitors are not allowed inside.
"There's a few of us here supporting the family, letting them know we're here and we care," said cousin Judy Mendoza.
The Polanco family wants the public to know, COVID-19 is real and people need to protect themselves.
"This is effecting people, people are dying, it needs to be taken seriously," said niece Laura Moreno.
Selena Polanco said her dad knew risks of the job but was dedicated to his duties.
Gilbert leaves behind a daughter and a son, Vincent who is currently serving in the U.S. Army. Gilbert Polanco and wife Patricia were getting ready to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary at the end of August.
A GoFundMe campaign was created for Polanco and his family, and as of Sunday afternoon, it had raised more than $66,000.
Polanco is the first guard at San Quentin prison to die from the virus, according to the CDCR.
A total of nine employees in the California prison system have died of COVID-19.
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