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Casino dealer, musician dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Updated March 30, 2020 - 6:18 pm

For a week, the casino dealer and blues aficionado lay in his hospital bed alone, a ventilator pumping oxygen into his lungs.

One by one, his organs began to fail.

First it was his kidneys. Then his liver gave out.

By late March 24, the novel coronavirus would claim its next Las Vegas victim: Howard Berman, 66.

With his siblings living on the other side of the country, and his girlfriend barred from entering his hospital room, Berman died alone at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, according to his sister, Gail Rosenthal.

“His body just couldn’t handle it anymore,” Rosenthal said Monday in a phone interview from her New Jersey home.

On March 17, Berman paid his doctor a visit, complaining of a fever that bounced between 100 and 101. He felt tired and had no appetite.

From there, his doctor had him taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was tested for COVID-19. During the ambulance ride, Berman called his sister.

“I love you, and just take care of yourself,” Rosenthal told him over the phone.

It would be the last thing she’d say to her big brother.

For days his family waited anxiously for the test results. Finally, on the morning of March 24, the day Berman died, they heard from his doctor.

“He said it was positive,” Rosenthal recalled.

Further details surrounding his death have not been released. The Clark County coroner’s office did not conduct an autopsy on Berman but confirmed Monday that his death had been reported to the office.

Berman, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was among the pandemic’s high-risk population — defined by health officials as those 65 or older or individuals with underlying medical conditions.

‘Loud and happy’

Still, at 66, Berman was full of life.

“He was loud and happy and funny and sarcastic,” his best friend, Diana Andriola, said.

The two shared a love for blues music. They met about 11 years ago at a local jam session.

Over the years, she said, Berman didn’t let his age slow him down. He played the drums, harmonica and piano, often performing at jam sessions around the valley and even in Northern Nevada.

“He was well loved in the blues community,” Andriola said.

Berman’s affinity for music began at a young age, according to his sister, when he got his first set of drums. All day and night, he would bang on them.

“It’s all we ever heard growing up,” Rosenthal said, laughing. “We’d get calls in the middle of the night complaining about the drums, and the cops would come.”

But he didn’t care.

“Music was everything to him,” his sister said.

A kind heart

Aside from his musical talents, Rosenthal said, her brother was known for his kind heart.

When he was younger, she said, he delivered newspapers around their hometown of Margate, New Jersey.

He received “so many” write-ups for late deliveries during his stint on the paper route, Rosenthal recalled, because during the winter, he’d walk each newspaper to his neighbors’ doorsteps, taking the time to shovel away the ice on their doorsteps.

“He just had that kindness in him,” his sister said. “He wanted to help in any way he could.”

Berman worked odd jobs throughout his life. He was a mechanic for some time, and drove taxis during another period of his life.

At the time of his death, Berman, who had been in Las Vegas for nearly two decades, worked as a card dealer at Aliante Casino. His sister suspects he was exposed to the virus at work.

Though he wasn’t surrounded by his family when he died, Rosenthal said she finds comfort in knowing the last five years of his life were “happily spent” with his girlfriend, Barbara Gibson.

“He was very loved,” she said.

Berman’s body will be cremated and sent back to his home state — back to his siblings.

His parents died previously. In addition to his sister, he is survived by his younger brother, Larry.

Nevada has had 18 deaths attributed to COVID-19, and all but three have occurred in Clark County.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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