A single act of generosity led to COVID fatally spreading through this New Jersey household
ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. - It took only a single act of generosity to undo months of Sofia Burke's caution at work.
Sofia is a nurse. She cared for COVID-19 patients during the first wave of the New Jersey pandemic. She inserted intravenous lines, squeezed fluids, restrained some patients as they died, and helped others survive in the nursing home where she works.
Most importantly, she followed safety protocols - neither she nor any member of her family got sick.
The Burke and Matias family of Elmwood Park, New Jersey, in August 2020. In November, each family member contracted COVID-19. Two were hospitalized and one (not shown) died. Above, Anthony Matias and Kianna Vasquez. Below: Connor Burke, Dora Matias (mother of Sofia and Anthony), Sofia Burke, Brian Burke and Elena Burke. Not pictured is Otto Bowless, Sofia's father, who died at the age of 93.
In November, COVID-19 spread in New Jersey's Elmwood Park, which Sofia shares with seven other family members. After giving an older friend a car ride with a cough, Sofia's mother became infected. And from her the infection spread.
By Thanksgiving, all eight members of Sofia's household had gotten sick, except for the last positive test for COVID.
Her father died from the virus. Her mother, who was discharged six days later, still needs extra oxygen for the slightest effort. Every other family member - Sofia's brother, her husband, and their three children, ages 2, 6, and 20 - are recovering from or coping with the aftermath of COVID-19.
And Sofia herself, who has been so careful at work for so long, stays in the hospital with the virus.
Sofia Burke, 43, of Elmwood Park, uses a rebreather-free mask to deliver high levels of oxygen while in hospital with COVID on November 25, 2020.
On Thanksgiving weekend alone, in a negative pressure room on the ninth floor of Hackensack University Medical Center, Sofia wanted above all to express her thanks.
"I want to thank this hospital for everything they have done for me and my family," she said over the phone. The lower half of her face was surrounded by an oxygen mask. "I want to thank everyone at the front who work so hard."
Researchers have documented several cases of COVID spreading to multiple members of the same family, usually at family gatherings where most were not wearing masks.
In the early days of the New Jersey pandemic, five members of the Fusco family in Freehold, New Jersey - the matriarch, three of her children, and her sister - died and 19 more were infected. Families in North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, and Los Angeles have each reported eight or more members who tested positive and some died.
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In a five-page guideline "for large or extended families living in the same household", the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized that all members should act in this way if a household includes relatives over 65 years of age or people with underlying diseases, if they themselves have a higher risk of getting serious illness from the virus.
"This can be difficult when space is limited," the agency admitted.
Sofia can relate.
"We tried wearing masks around the house and did everything we could to keep my father safe," said Sofia of the 93-year-old who had cared for after triple bypass surgery more than a decade ago. Her mother was quarantined in her room with her son, but they both fell ill.
"This virus is so transmissible," said Brian Burke, Sofia's husband.
At 43 years old, Brian had a comparatively mild case that nonetheless caused fever and fatigue for a week, back pain from the infection in his lungs, and concerns about clotting when bruises appeared under his skin.
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