By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — As officials continue to urge people to refrain from gathering in groups, administrators at Cedars-Sinai hope a message from a COVID-19 patient will drive home the importance of staying home this New Year’s Eve.

“I thought COVID-19 was a joke,” Walter Gomez Saldana said in a video posted Thursday to YouTube. “I didn’t think it could get me the way it has.”

The 41-year-old has been battling COVID-19 for nearly a month, including two weeks in the intensive care unit. He believes he contracted the virus after giving his best friend — who knowingly had COVID-19 — a ride home.

Two days later, Gomez Saldana said he starting experiencing symptoms. For the next two weeks, he fought the illness at home until his mother urged him to go to an urgent care clinic. While there, a nurse suggested he seek treatment at a hospital.

While hospitalized, his best friend died at a nearby hospital.

“We had dinner together once a week every week,” he said. “He was more than a best friend; he was a brother to me.”

Now Gomez Saldana is urging everyone to take the pandemic seriously and wear face coverings at all times.

“This is serious,” he said. “Please stay home and keep your distance.”