When Tony Green decided to host a small family gathering in June, he was doing it partly out of frustration with the COVID-19 restrictions. In his home state of Texas, he didn’t know anyone who had gotten sick in those early months of the pandemic, when most cases centered around the East Coast, and he “thought it was an overblown media hoax,” Green, 43, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
So Green and his partner invited four people over to their home — his parents and his partner’s parents — to stay for the weekend and enjoy meals, movies and time by a lake together after months apart.
But within days, all six of them tested positive for COVID-19, along with eight more people in their extended families.
Green developed severe symptoms, requiring a three-day hospital stay after the virus attacked his nervous system, but he eventually recovered. His father-in-law and his father-in-law’s mother were not as lucky, though, and both died from COVID-19.
Green’s father-in-law, whom he called his “best friend,” was on supplemental oxygen and improving until one day one of his lungs collapsed, and the other filled with fluid, requiring the help of a ventilator and life support. After nearly two months on the machines, he died.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Green said he feels a sense of guilt for hosting the get-together, even though no one knows who was the first to get COVID-19.
"The feeling that I have is kind of like what, I would say, a drunk driver would have if they killed their family," he said. "It was unintentional. This was my home. This is where it happened. So, you know there is a sense of responsibility."
And the experience of seeing two family members die from COVID-19, along with his own hospitalization, changed his view of the virus. Green said he now needs to “be the example” and “bring awareness” of the risks when people let their guard up, even around family.
With the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Green said to “take a little bit of extra precaution” and hold family events, if they’re necessary, outdoors or in a large space.
“I think that you've got a reason to be afraid of it,” he said, adding that if people are nervous to host or attend, “I think maybe you should bow out this year."
Right now, Green wrote in his op-ed, he feels like he “can’t escape” COVID-19.
“It’s torn up our family. It’s all over my Facebook. It’s the election. It’s Trump. It’s what I keep thinking about,” he said. “How many people would have gotten sick if I’d never hosted that weekend? One? Maybe two? The grief comes in waves, but that guilt just sits.”
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