Alexa Aragonez said her family prided themselves on following COVID-19 precautions for months before a dozen of them gathered Nov. 1 for a “low-key” get-together.
Now the family is warning others to not make the same mistake.
Within days, everyone who attended had tested positive and, soon, three other family members became sick as well.
Weeks later, the family is still reeling from the outbreak, and those sickened are still battling symptoms, Aragonez told USA TODAY. Her mother, one of those who attended, was hospitalized for a week and may be on medication for the rest of her life because of damage from the virus.
“Please don’t be like my family and ignore the CDC guidelines. By staying apart, we can fight this virus together,” Aragonez said in a public service announcement published by the City of Arlington, Texas, her employer.
Multiple family members joined her in the video to echo the same message: Encouraging listeners to wear a mask, maintain social distance and wash their hands.
It’s an example of how easily the virus can spread, even in a family that made a habit of staying home and wearing masks.
“My family took great precautions … taking every precaution with the exception of gathering is not enough,” Aragonez said. “My family learned the hard way.”
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The virus likely made its way to the gathering through one family member whose job required her to work outside her home, Aragonez said. That family member attended the event with symptoms which she thought were just allergies.
According to an account of the event published by the Washington Post, family members didn’t intend to gather indoors but fell back into old habits, including not wearing masks, as they ate cake and fajitas.
“I really do think people let their guard down,” said Aragonez, who didn’t attend the event because of another commitment but did drive her mother there.
The family has a new plan for Thanksgiving: Those who aren’t sick are cooking on their own, then dropping the food off at other family members’ homes for contactless delivery.
The family will be “all eating the same food but apart,” Aragonez said.
Aragonez hopes others around the nation will find their own ways to creatively and safely celebrate the holiday, too.