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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

One house, five people — all (likely) had COVID-19

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Gene Murray was on his third dose of antibiotics, trying to get rid of a cough, headache, fever and other symptoms that were piling on.

It was March 17, two weeks after Murray first developed a cough.

His wife, Alicia, found him in the bed about an hour after Gene said he was going to shower. He was struggling to breathe.

Alicia had already distanced herself from social media and the news because it was too much to see the toll of COVID-19. Now, here was her husband, an otherwise healthy 48-year-old father of three, knocked off of his feet.

“Are you scared?” Alicia asked him.

He said yes.

“Being afraid at home is not gonna do any of us any good,” she told him.

Alicia drove Gene to the emergency room at St. Vincent, where he got the antibiotics from a virtual visit with a doctor.

He was tested for COVID-19 but didn’t get the result back until March 27. It was positive.

Gene, who is an engineer, was hospitalized after his ER visit for four days. Doctors told him to assume he had the virus while he waited for the test to come back, and that everyone else in his house also had it.

Looking back, it makes sense that everyone else had the virus at some point.

Sydney, the Murrays’ middle daughter, was the first in the house to show symptoms, starting March 13. It was the first day North Central High School, where she goes to school, was closed.

The Friday before, Sydney and hundreds of other students and fans were at Lawrence Central High School for boys basketball sectional games. In the weeks following, at least five people who were at the gym died from complications with COVID-19, according to an article by Kyle Neddenriep of IndyStar.

Sydney, 16, said she had a fever that went up and down, developed a bad cough, and her chest was tight. Her lungs made a “gurgling sound.”

But Sydney, like her mother and two sisters, has sinus and allergy issues. Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 could easily be mistaken for a sinus infection.

Alicia had a cough she couldn’t control and thought it was just “the worst head cold in the world” — until it became obvious that everyone was likely dealing with something beyond the normal cold or sinus infection.

“Everything kind of made sense that it would be something else,” she said.

The silver lining for the Murrays was that everyone was able to isolate together. Alicia initially made plans for everyone to stay in different parts of the house, but that turned about to be unnecessary since everyone was told to just assume they were infected.

The Murrays’ youngest daughter, 11-year-old London, has severe asthma, and 19-year-old Lauren seems to develop bronchitis every time she gets a cold.

But it was Gene who developed the worst of the symptoms.

“I just wanted to lay around and sleep all day,” he said. “I didn’t have any energy to do anything else.”

Gene, who is also a volleyball coach, began working from home shortly after developing his symptoms. That means there’s a possibility he spread it to coworkers when he was asymptomatic, but Gene said he has stayed in touch with others at his workplace and hasn’t learned of anyone else getting sick.

Any other time, a whole household falling ill to the same mysterious virus — with one going to the hospital for four days — would be an anomaly.

But the Murrays represent just one anecdote in a growing landscape of African American families who are contracting COVID-19.

The Indiana State Department of Health says African Americans represent 16.9% of cases and 17.5% of deaths across the state, close to double their share of the population.

In Marion County, African Americans make up 42% of deaths, according to county health department data, but they’re only 29% of the population.

“It’s disturbing in a lot of ways,” Gene said. “… You can’t live by ‘it won’t happen to me’ because it’s happening to us at an alarming rate.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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