What started as a small family cookout ended in 14 family members infected with COVID-19 and one dead. A cautionary tale to anyone underestimating the dangers of COVID.
TEXAS — When Governor Greg Abbott of Texas lifted some of the COVID-19 restrictions in June, Tony Green thought it was safe to have a small gathering at his Dallas home with his husband and their parents. No one wore masks or practiced social distancing.
“Swim, grill out, socialize, and enjoy each other’s company,” the Dallas consultant told The Americano about the June 13 cookout. “That’s exactly how it happened. What ended up happening is that Sunday morning… I woke up feeling weird.”
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Eventually, Green, his partner’s father Rafael Ceja, and Ceja’s paternal grandmother were admitted into Medical City Dallas Hospital. Green’s partner’s grandmother got infected with COVID-19 after her son took her to visit family in Austin.
“I can’t say I had it and gave it to them,” says Green. “I can’t say one of them had it and gave it to the other. I don’t know, but somebody was the host and that somebody was me. I hosted a gathering, and everybody that was at that gathering got it. And it spread from there.”
Green learned that in total 14 members of the Ceja family tested positive for COVID-19. They had spread it amongst each other without knowing it. Green himself had a close call with death.
“The ER gave me something to prevent me from having a stroke,” he says about the few days he spent in the hospital. “The virus had attacked my central nervous system, and when it does, there is a major risk of stroke. I was on my way out.”
The Cejas had a very different outcome. Rafael Ceja didn’t recover as quickly. He was put on a ventilator on June 24 and is still on life support. Ceja’s mother died from the virus on July 2nd. Son and mother were in hospital rooms next to each other but he didn’t know it.
According to the Texas Health and Human Services, more than 3.5 million Texans have been tested for COVID-19, and more than 6,100 have died from the disease. About 48% of the fatalities have been Hispanics.
The Ceja family is now part of the 48,000 residents of Dallas County affected by the disease. Tony Green feels tremendous guilt because he did not believe in wearing a mask or in social distancing. He even admits he voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and fell into the conspiracy trap over coronavirus.
Green describes himself as a “conservative coronavirus denier.”
“I was a denier,” he says remorsefully. “This is not significant. There is no reason to shut us down. There is no reason for us to be destroying our economy and everything we have built. Families just being destroyed. Just didn’t add up.”
The Spread of COVID-19 Among Hispanic Families is More Common Than Among Other Groups
At Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, it is common to see several members of the same family sick with COVID-19. Dr. Joe Chang, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Parkland, says that 70% of the patients at Parkland are Hispanic, and treating members of the same family is a common occurrence.
Chang oversees a staff of 2,700 doctors, many of who are assigned to the four COVID-19 units.
“We get these examples all the time, where multiple people in a family, they come in, and they’re all sick,” Chang says. “They may not be all sick at the same level, but they’re all sick”.
The doctor attributes the spread of the disease among Hispanic families to several reasons. Many have different generations living under one roof, and sometimes a younger person who believes he or she won’t get the virus carries it home without knowing it.
“There is nothing that says that a 25-year-old is less likely to get COVID than a 45-year-old,” Chang says. “Infections all work the same.”
Chang says that because Hispanics tend to have tight-knit families and extended family members, they are under a misconception about COVID-19.
“That’s the part that is an unspoken thing with family gatherings,” he says. We tend to think we know our family, and we are very close to our family. That may subconsciously feel like, ‘Well, we know them, so they’re probably not going to be sick’.”
The doctor also says more Hispanics are being infected because several are essential workers exposed to the public. There’s also a high rate of diabetes and obesity in the Hispanic community. Those underlying conditions make Hispanics more susceptible to the disease and make it harder for them to fight it off.
9,000 Daily New Cases of COVID-19 in Texas
The Texas Health and Human Services’ data indicated the Lone Star state is averaging more than 9,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus every day. Dallas County is averaging between 600 and 1,000 new cases a day.
So far, 100 people have died from COVID-19 at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Dr. Chang says that may look like a low number, but those are still 100 people who could have survived if someone wore their mask. He hopes Texans finally realize that COVID-19 is very real and very deadly.
“I do feel that more and more people are more accepting of it,” Chang says. “I think the people who were refusing to believe it, who believed it’s a hoax, are fewer and fewer. I feel gratified about that.”