Two City of Houston employees lose their battle to COVID-19

This week, two City of Houston employees lost their battles to COVID-19 -- Joel Cirilo, Jr. and Officer Ernest Leal.

Cirilo began his career with Houston Public Works, Code Enforcement Division, in 2014. His son, Joel Cirilo, III sent FOX 26 videos of his father playing the electric guitar and accordion. 

He also sent this statement: "Away from work at the City of Houston, my father was a self-taught musician. Introduced to the guitar at an early age by a childhood friend, his passion for music took him down a journey spanning over 40 years. Many would agree that music was his identity. Native to Houston's East End/Second Ward, Joel Cirilo JR was a member of the Austin High School marching band drumline. His love for the electric guitar led him into classic rock. Later he went on to play Tejano, Rock covers and the recording of his own original music."

The 59-year-old died on Wednesday after a week in the hospital battling COVID-19.


Officer Ernest Leal served the Houston Police Department for 36 years. 

"He worked closely with the apartment complexes, the positive interaction program, our PIT meetings. Anything that had to do with community, he was always there to help out and do whatever needed to be done," said Douglas Griffith, Vice-President of the Houston Police Officer's Union.

Leal and his wife Dee, a retired HPD officer, were known for their community service. They were involved in organizations serving first responders and veterans like American GI Forum, Gathering of Eagles, and Houston Lady Lions Club.

"Seeing the love between the two of them, it was beautiful and our hearts are truly broken for Lion Dee," said Debra Marshall, President of Houston Lady Lions Club.

Houston Lady Lions is inviting the community to make handmade cards and notes to the Leal family. The cards should be mailed to: Houston Lady Lions, P.O. Box 2252, Pearland, TX 77588

The group is also organizing a fund for first responders in honor of Officer Leal.

"We are committing $500 towards that fund to pay it forward to our first responders in his honor," explained Marshall. "And, I challenge other organizations that are companies to not only match our donation but beat it."

Marshall says the group is also planning a prayer vigil. The event will be announced on the group's Facebook page

The Assist the Officer Foundation is another way to support the Leal family.

"Keep Officer Leal's family in your prayers and his brothers and sisters that are still out there doing the job," added Griffith.


He adds many in Leal's division also contracted COVID-19 and more than 600 officers total have tested positive for coronavirus. At the moment, he says, about 70 are in quarantine.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's office reports nine municipal employees, three Houston firefighters, and one Houston police officer have died from COVID-19.