“My mother left her guard down for one moment — one moment,” Burke, 43, said to CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday, pausing to catch her breath. "And in that swift moment, my entire family was affected.”
Now, weeks after the car ride, Burke and seven other members of her Elmwood Park, N.J., home have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to WPIX. Otto Bowless, her 93-year-old father, died last week of covid-19 complications, as first reported by NorthJersey.com.
The case provides yet another account of how entire family units can be sickened and devastated during a pandemic that’s killed more than 275,000 Americans. Earlier this year, the virus killed a mother and her three sons in New Orleans. In New Jersey, a 73-year-old mother, three of her 11 children and her sister died of covid-19 complications, according to the New York Times.
Burke, who treated covid patients through the first wave of the pandemic in New Jersey, told WPIX that both Matias and her mother’s friend wore masks inside her car, which had the windows down for extra ventilation.
But shortly after that car ride, Burke’s mother began exhibiting symptoms. She quarantined in her room with her son, Burke told NorthJersey.com, but both contracted the virus.
“We tried to wear masks in the house and did everything we could to keep my father safe,” Burke told the local paper. But one after another, every member of her house fell ill.
“This virus is so transmissible,” her husband, Brian, 43, told the paper. “There’s almost no way to stop from spreading it.”
Burke’s husband was fortunate enough to suffer a mild case of the virus, with symptoms including fever and fatigue. Mild symptoms were also exhibited by her 29-year-old brother, 20-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
But not everyone was that lucky. Burke’s mother spent six days at the hospital and is now at home recovering with supplemental oxygen. The same day Matias was discharged, her father’s condition worsened. Bowless was admitted to the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath. He died Nov. 23 after being on a ventilator for a week, NorthJersey.com reported.
Burke’s 2-year-old daughter, Elena, who suffers from diabetes, was also taken to the emergency room because of a recurring fever, but she was not admitted. Soon thereafter, Burke was admitted to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and given a mask to increase her oxygen levels.
Burke told the local paper that she expects to remain in the hospital for several more days as she is still unable to breathe on her own. Every time she removes her mask, her oxygen levels dip below 80 or 70, she told WPIX.
“Right now I feel like everything has been swept from under my feet literally," Burke told CNN’s Lemon on Wednesday. “Something so simple as breathing has become so difficult.”
The nurse said her message for those people defying coronavirus restrictions and pushing for businesses to reopen is that you can’t put a price on the lives of loved ones.
“Wouldn’t you want to walk away with your family alive, healthy without nerve damage, without [them being] unable to breathe?" Burke asked. "You don’t want to spend the money you have on funerals and burying your loved ones.”