Ken Machado, who grew up in Morgan Hill, was the first resident of San Benito County to die of complications related to Covid-19. Machado died at the age of 60 on March 16, at his ranch in Paicines.

Since then, as of Dec. 28, Covid-19 has killed 27 more people in San Benito County, and another 652 in Santa Clara County, according to public health officials. The rate of the virus’ spread has expanded exponentially—with more than 1,000 positive cases reported daily in recent weeks in Santa Clara, and a positivity rate of 68.3 new cases per 100,000 residents per day in San Benito. 

Machado and his four siblings grew up in the Uvas Canyon area west of Morgan Hill, with their parents, Hank and Eydie Machado. His sister, Diane Machado-Wyant, described “Kenny” as a gregarious friendly cowboy who knew people all over the world. He was a former rodeo and bull riding competitor, an actor and a retired heavy equipment operator.

Diane Machado-Wyant in late March described her brother as an “absolutely iconic cowboy from Morgan Hill.” 

“He traveled around the world and met people because he was so outgoing,” she added. “He was the best story teller you’ve ever talked to. He was a really happy person. He made everybody feel comfortable.”

Diane said on Dec. 28—nearly a year after Ken’s death—that the family still hasn’t been able to properly memorialize him. She added that she still struggles to convince her friends and acquaintances—including those who knew Ken Machado—to take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously.

Their parents, who miss Ken, are quarantined in a senior living facility, Diane said. Their father has dementia and still asks about Ken occasionally, to which the family has to remind him that his son passed away—forcing the father to relive the tragedy each time.

The family wants to spread Machado’s ashes in Thailand—a country he visited many times—but have had to delay the trip until it is safe to travel.

“Christmas was Kenny’s favorite holiday, so it was very sad without him,” Diane Machado said.

In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic was the defining event of 2020, impacting everybody’s life in ways they never expected.

Diane added she has been dismayed by the fact that many people who knew her brother still think the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax or somehow less serious than public health experts have warned. Even Ken Machado thought Covid-19 was a “conspiracy theory” before he died.

“The thing that’s really bothering me is people in my inner circle (and beyond), don’t take it seriously,” Diane said. “I still hear people who think it’s a conspiracy theory, or they say ‘your brother was sick anyway.’”

Ken Machado did suffer from heart disease, Lyme disease and other ailments. But the cause of death listed on his records is Covid-19, according to the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s office, which contracts for services with San Benito County.

Diane gives props to those who follow official public health advice to stay home and away from strangers as much as possible.

“My brother thought it was a joke, and he ultimately died from it,” Diane said.

Adding another layer of tangible reality to Covid-19 for the Machado family is the fact that Diane and her siblings haven’t been able to visit their parents at the senior care facility where they live. Diane said she has seen her parents only when transporting them to doctors’ appointments outside the facility.

Other than that, she has only seen them over Facetime video calls.

“Maybe some people live in a bubble, or they don’t think it’s real because it hasn’t hit home yet,” Diane said. “I want people to know what’s going on, because it’s real.”

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.