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COVID-19: One Family Story

Submitted by on November 12, 2020 – 3:20 pm
portrait of woman with long curly hair

Jacqueline Dick, coordinator, NECC Public Health Program

Jacqueline Dick, coordinator of our Public Health program, has a master’s degree and years of experience teaching public health. And, she spent the summer training contact tracers. Still, the virus managed to penetrate her close family circle. She shares what happened, along with some words of caution for others as we approach the holiday season.

This summer I spent two months training contact tracers. I was feeling confident about my knowledge of the virus and my ability to advise others about how it spreads. I was also familiar with the dangers of complacency or corona fatigue and the importance of continuing to be vigilant. So how did I find my family in the midst of a bout of the virus? That’s a story that I want to share in the hopes that it will help others.

We lost my mother-in-law on Memorial Day and finally scheduled a small outdoor graveside funeral in September, attended by the immediate family, all socially-distanced and wearing masks. Afterwards, we gathered as a family following every safety guideline for an outdoor meal. All went well and no one got sick.

Two weeks later, feeling confident that they could host a COVID-safe event, four nephews and nieces who had attended the funeral—all professionals who generally demonstrate good common sense and judgement— held a small weekend gathering with friends to celebrate a 30th birthday. By Tuesday, one of the nieces had a terrible headache. On Friday, she was diagnosed with COVID.

That weekend my husband, two brothers, and two nephews were scheduled to clean out the attic of my mother-in-law’s home. My husband spent four hot hours in an attic passing boxes back and forth to a nephew, who we learned later was infected as a result of attending the 30th birthday party.

The end result? As of last month, my husband, one brother, two nephews, one wife, and one girlfriend have all tested positive. It’s important to know that the virus can take up to 14 days to emerge. Just after my husband had completed his isolation and I had completed my first 14 days of quarantine, our nephew who lives with us tested positive on day 12 of his quarantine. Essentially this resulted in another bout of quarantine for me even after a negative test on day seven.

So where was the breakdown? Basically, it came from a gathering of young healthy people who did not think it could happen to them. It was exacerbated by the group not paying attention to signs and signals and not informing the rest of the family of their activities together. I am not pointing fingers because we have heard across the country that we all have Covid fatigue and many of us have Covid complacency. It may also have been tempting to think that it won’t happen to us- we were safe at the funeral so everything should be fine. This was clearly a “perfect storm”!

Why am I writing this piece and sharing with the NECC community? I am hoping it will help you make informed decisions.  Despite my background in public health, the virus still wiggled its ugly way into my family. As we head towards colder days and indoor life, please be aware how easily this virus can sneak into your home. On a more positive note, know that, if you wear a mask and follow social distancing and cleaning guidelines, you can stop the spread with appropriate isolation and quarantine.