CRUM, W.Va. — Nothing short of a nightmare, more than 40 members of a family tested positive for coronavirus after an infected relative from another state attended a funeral.
Polly Williams, who resides on Jenny’s Creek in Wayne County, West Virginia, was saddened to hear of the death June 30 of her relative who lived in Alabama. Little did she realize the circumstances surrounding the funeral would change her life — and the lives of over 40 family members — in a manner in which they had never imagined in their worst nightmares.
“First of all, I want everyone, including my family, to know why I am sharing this information,” said Williams. “I’m not identifying anyone by name, besides myself, and my sister is also speaking out. I’m not trying to degrade anyone or cause any hardship. I want the public to understand what we are going through and how it could have been prevented. I want others to know how serious COVID-19 is and what a catastrophe it can become if you’re not forthcoming about having it.”
Williams told the Mountain Citizen newspaper in Inez, Kentucky, that upon hearing of the death of her cousin, she learned an out-of-state relative would be flying home to West Virginia to be with the family and assist with arrangements. The deceased’s body would be transported to Wayne County for burial. The following day, Williams’ mother went to the home of the grieving family to drop off food. She visited a short time. Later that evening, Williams and her sister, Stella Brewer, took supplies to the home and stayed about five hours. Other family, church members, and neighbors entered the house at various times.
“My relative from out-of-state wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t think a lot about it,” said Williams. “I figured she was tired from her flight and lack of sleep. She never said one word about fearing her illness was something serious. We none wore masks, which was our mistake, but no one there had them on. Her condition worsened over the next couple of days and she supposedly had to seek medical attention but still never told us anything. On the morning of my cousin’s wake, I was told my relative’s husband, who didn’t make the trip to West Virginia, had tested positive for COVID-19. By the day of the wake, a young child in our family that had been in the home where my relative was staying, was the first among us to be positive. And so it began.”
Williams said a small number of people attended the wake and funeral.
“From those exposed at the home of my relative, the wake and the funeral, we now have over 40 diagnosed cases among my family and a few others who attended. They range in age from a 5-month-old set of twins to a 77-year-old lady. It has spread like wildfire,” she said.
The church where the services were held, according to Williams, is undergoing sterilization.
Williams and her family, who extend into Mingo County, West Virginia, and parts of Kentucky, are being closely monitored by local health departments and their physicians. Each quarantined at home, and several received medical treatment due to worsening conditions.
The latest victim, a 2-year-old girl, was diagnosed Sunday night after being taken to a Huntington hospital with a high fever.
“When does it stop?” asked Brewer. “When will we reach the point that no one else in our family gets that dreaded call?”
Brewer, who was one of the first to be diagnosed and is now doing better, has watched nearly every member of her family, young and old alike, fight the coronavirus. Some had milder symptoms, while others were sick for days and required in-patient treatment.
“I think I’ve handled everything as well as could be expected until this evening,” Brewer said. “But when I got the call that my sweet granddaughter was ill and on her way to the hospital, I lost it. She’s just two years old. She doesn’t understand why she’s sick. And with so many in our family ill, we don’t even know who will be able to take care of her.”
Williams said it had been an emotional roller-coaster ride.
“I’ve been angry, I’ve been scared, and I’ve been stressed and worried out of my head. Through it all, I’ve tried to keep my emotions in check. But to look around and see family member after family member falling victim to this virus is more than I can handle,” she said.
“I understand that my relative lost a close family member. I get that. My heart breaks for her. But to get on a plane while you’re ill and travel to another state, knowing full well you could infect everyone you are around is, in my opinion, selfish and unforgivable. The very least she could have done was to wear masks and gloves and warn all of us to stay away, that she was ill. What happened was a total disregard for anyone. It didn’t matter if it was strangers on a plane or her own family, she withheld information that has endangered all our lives, and we are paying the price.”
Williams said it is vital that people understand the danger of not quarantining and exposing others to the coronavirus.
“We wouldn’t have thought badly of my relative at all if she had said she was sick. We would have loved her through it. We would have done everything possible to help her. Instead, she knowingly exposed all of us to this horrible, frightening disease, never giving us a chance to protect ourselves. We are scared to death that it’s going to cost someone their life before it’s done.”