Family mourns Galt's Michael Payne as COVID-19 cases surge in city

Michael Payne of Galt passed away recently after contracting COVID-19. He was 66. (Courtesy)

Michael Payne retired from the Sacramento County Department of Engineering's Building Inspection Division in 2009, and spent time with his wife Barbara visiting their children in Texas and Kansas City.

Soon, though, Michael’s emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease took over his life, and in the past few years he’s been in and out of the hospital.

About a month ago, Michael was diagnosed with COVID-19, and on July 18 the 66-year-old died in a Kaiser hospital from complications of the disease. He’s one of the first Galt residents to die of COVID-19 in the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was probably about a month ago, when he went into the hospital for his COPD, and they said he had developed the coronavirus. At the end they were treating for both,” said Barbara, who spent 12 years on the Galt City Council, including stints as mayor and vice mayor. “We were scared that he might go into a nursing home because of his COPD and contact it there.”

While Galt Interim City Manager Thomas Haglund issued a warning on July 24 about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the city, Barbara said Michael’s doctors told her he most likely picked it up at the hospital.

“Before he got the coronavirus he was already on oxygen 24/7, in and out of the hospital so much,” she said. “I asked the doctor at Kaiser when he became infected, and how is that possible? He’s only been at the hospital and home, and the doctor said he probably contracted it at the hospital.”

Because of the pandemic, no celebration of life ceremony is planned for Michael, but Barbara requested in lieu of flowers that donations be made to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Meanwhile, she has plenty of memories of a man who was more than a number in a coronavirus tally. He was a husband of 30 years, a father of three children, a grandfather of six, and a great-grandfather of seven.

Born in San Bernardino, Michael began his career as a master plumber.

“He did a lot of commercial and residential plumbing,” Barbara said. “He was recruited by one of the building inspectors for Sacramento County because of his knowledge and his high desire for quality in the construction. So that’s how he became a building inspector for Sacramento County.”

One of Barbara’s favorite memories is of Michael crawling through the tunnels at Chuck-E-Cheese, chasing after his youngest grandchildren.

“We have community gardens here in Galt, and he paid for the children in the Head Start school to have their own garden,” Barbara said. “And he loved to go by and see the children running around in the garden that he made happen.”

Barbara remembers being at Mt. Rushmore soon after the 9/11 tragedy, and Michael being moved to tears by the occasion.

“He taught me how to fish. He was a great sturgeon fisherman, that was his thing,” Barbara said. “After we retired, we went to some of the NASCAR races — he was a big NASCAR fan, and a fan of dragsters as well. We have those memories.”

One memory is more recent, and is a big one for Barbara. As nurses and doctors came to the conclusion that Michael was in his final hours, Barbara and daughter Suzanne, who lives in Reno, were allowed to don protective gear and spend a little time with him.

“I had not been able to see him, of course, since he was in the hospital. They gave me and my daughter 15 minutes to see him,” Barbara said. “It meant the world. To think that he might pass away in that hospital without me or any family to be with him in those last minutes, that pulled at my heartstrings.”

Barbara has managed to stay free of the virus herself, testing negative soon after her husband’s diagnosis. Haglund’s warning last week said that Galt’s numbers (per capita) have exceeded those of the rest of Sacramento County, with 320 cases, up from 200 days before. That is on par with Citrus Heights, a city with three times the population of Galt. As of Monday, Sacramento County had Galt’s numbers at 346 cases and three deaths.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that the entire community do their part to help contain the spread of COVID-19,” Haglund wrote in his update.

“Residents are encouraged to refrain from having or attending gatherings with people outside of their household and to practice social distancing with face coverings when in public spaces.”

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