All 8 Members of This Family Caught COVID-19 After One Person Gave an Elderly Friend a Car Ride

Two family members were hospitalized, and one died from the virus.

Person is using city transportation like car and taxi while using a phone

A New Jersey nurse has a warning for anyone not taking COVID-19 seriously: “You can’t let your guard down for one second.”

Sofia Burke, who has cared for many COVID-19 patients at the North Haledon nursing home, knows what it’s like to be blindsided by the coronavirus, but she didn’t get sick as a result of her work. After her mother gave an elderly friend a ride home in November, the whole family became infected. The friend had a cough, but Burke’s mother had no idea she was infected with the coronavirus. By Thanksgiving, all eight members of Burke’s family—who all live in the same household—had caught COVID-19.

“My mother is home with oxygen unable to breathe on her own after being in the hospital for six days,” Burke, 43, recently told from her hospital bed. “My child, my two year old with diabetes, contracted the virus. She had to endure high fever and now has COVID.” Her husband, brother, and older children are recovering or still being treated.

After they discovered her mother had been exposed, Burke said the family tried its hardest to protect her 93-year-old father. “We tried to wear masks in the house and did everything we could to keep my father safe,” she said. And she, her mother, and her son tried to quarantine in one room to protect him, but this resulted in them catching the virus. Sadly, Burke’s father died from COVID-19 last week, after a week on a ventilator.

When Burke got sick her husband took her to the emergency room, and she was diagnosed with pneumonia caused by COVID-19. She was treated with steroids and the antiviral drug remdesivir, and fitted with a mask to boost oxygen concentration.

Despite being healthy before getting COVID-19—she’s a keen runner and swimmer—Burke revealed that she’s “not getting any better.” She explained that although she feels good mentally, her lungs feel “stuck—”it’s like you’re gasping for air when you do any activity,” she said. But the hardest part of the illness has been the inability to properly grieve for her father. “I think it hasn’t fully hit me that he’s gone, really gone,” she said. “With my shortness of breath, I couldn’t even cry. Every time I cry, my oxygen goes down.”

Although Burke’s mother was discharged from the hospital after six days, she still needs supplemental oxygen for even the smallest exertion.

It’s not clear if Burke’s mom and her elderly passenger wore masks during the car ride, but even if they had, they wouldn’t have completely eliminated the risk of transmission. For that reason, experts advise against car-sharing if someone has COVID-19. “I discourage any unnecessary travel by a patient during an active COVID-19 infection because the close quarters of a vehicle put others at risk, even while masked,” Valerie Fitzhugh, MD, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Pathology at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, previously told Health.

Of course, in some situations car rides with other people are unavoidable. But if you can possibly avoid it, you definitely should. “If you’re going to the hospital or to seek medical care, that’s usually the exception we would grant for someone who has an active case of COVID-19 that is contagious,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, previously told Health. If you do need to be in the car with a patient who has COVID-19, or if you have COVID-19 and need someone to drive you to get medical care, it’s important to open the windows, and wear masks at all times. “But outside of emergency situations, this is not recommended,” Dr. Adalja warned.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that people with COVID-19 avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis. And if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19, the advice is to stay home apart from getting medical care.

Being a nurse herself, Burke knows more than anyone how much pressure hospital staff are under during the pandemic, and she expressed her gratitude to the staff who cared for her family members and continue to care for her. “I want to say thank you to this hospital for everything they have done for me and my family,” she said. “I want to say thank you to all the front-line people working so hard.”


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