The Blakes’ roots run deep here. They have their own folder at the county historical society. They were among the earliest members of a nearby Methodist congregation that dates back to the end of the 19th century.
The Blakes married some of the other congregants. And the headstones in the cemetery next to Eastern United Methodist Church bear the names of those interconnected families, just as do the mailboxes that line the roads near the church.
Many members of the extended family stopped by March 1 — not long after Ruth Blake, 81, died — to be together and to pray.
A family member had asked her pastor, the Rev. Irving Beverly, to come to pray as well. Inside, he was surprised to see two sheriff’s deputies. At that point, the cause of Blake’s death was unknown.
Two of Ruth Blake’s adult children, Lowell, 58, and Vanessa, 56, who had cared for her and who would later die, were also there, Beverly recalled.
“We thought it was just an elderly person who passed away,” he said. “If only we had known then what caused her death, the children would be alive.”
A third child, Elaine, 51, who lived with her mother and had been her main caregiver, remains hospitalized, but she is improving
On Wednesday, a sister of Ruth Blake’s was taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center for evaluation, a spokeswoman said. She has a fever, but does not appear to have other flu-like symptoms.
Blake’s son and her older daughter died within hours of each other Monday after they were hospitalized with upper respiratory symptoms.
Hospital officials said tests confirmed that the siblings had a strain of the influenza A virus that is circulating this flu season, and each also acquired a serious staph infection before being hospitalized.
The two developed severe bacterial pneumonia, which is not uncommon in people infected with the flu virus. The flu virus weakens and damages the lungs, making the person more susceptible to bacterial infections.
Calvert health officials said in a statement Wednesday that the cases were isolated to a single family and that “there are currently no other affected individuals.” Local health-care providers, they said, are not reporting any significant increase in patients with flulike symptoms.
David Rogers, the county’s health officer, said health officials suspect that Blake also had the flu and then suffered a serious lung infection that turned into pneumonia.
“In older people, that can often be fatal,” he said.
Blake had a flu shot, he said. None of the others were vaccinated.