Birthday Lunch in Texas Leaves 15 Relatives Battling COVID-19

Birthdays are a time for celebration, but for one Texas family, life since their gathering has been anything but a party.

The Aragonez family has been diligent about following the CDC’s guidelines since the pandemic began. They’ve avoided indoor gatherings, and have remained socially distant, only visiting one another outdoors. Then came a spontaneous invitation that changed everything.

“I went to my nephew’s house [for a birthday party] and loved seeing my family, but now, I’m fighting against COVID-19,” Enriqueta Aragonez said in a video message from her hospital bed. “Please protect yourself. It’s real.”

Members of the Arogonez family decided to travel from Arlington to Forth Worth for the birthday lunch, but had never intended to gather indoors. Once the party got underway, family members say they let their guard down, congregating in the living room without masks.

“Of course we regret getting together, but we all have in mind that this could be a lesson for all of us,” Alexa Aragonez, Enriqueta’s daughter, told The Washington Post. “One moment of carelessness has cost us a month of peace, has cost us sleep, has cost us laughs, has cost us a lot of money.”

The Aragonez family felt they were safe from the virus since they had been taking precautions. Therefore, Alexa says, there was little hesitation from anyone to accept the party invitation.

“Everyone said yes, just because we have all been taking care of ourselves very well since the start of the pandemic,” she said. “Our family put a strong emphasis of taking care of yourself every day so that we could see each other with more peace and not be scared of contracting COVID-19.”

In total, 12 guests attended the gathering, all of whom have since tested positive for coronavirus; three family members who did not attend the party have also contracted the illness. While the majority of the family has experienced mild symptoms, 57-year-old Enriquetta spent a week in the hospital. She developed severe pneumonia in both lungs and was coughing blood, according to her daughter.

Alexa Aragonez works for the city communication department in Arlington, Texas, and asked that her family’s story be shared to serve as a message for other people who may be planning to get together over the holidays.

“We need to get creative this holiday season,” she said. “Find ways to gather virtually and safely. One does not need to be in physical presence of other people to feel closeness. Modifying the way we celebrate holidays this year can guarantee us many more holidays in the future.”

Although she agrees it’s imperative to follow CDC guidelines, she hopes people will realize doing so alone isn’t enough to make them invincible against the disease.

“We followed all the guidelines with the exception of seeing our core family,” she said. “We are just like any other family that believes that if they keep their social circle small, then we will be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.”