‘Don’t be like us’ family warns after COVID-19 super-spreader gathering

Family members filmed a video to tell the public, “Please protect yourself."

A Texas family is warning others about how easy it is to spread COVID-19 after 15 family members contracted the virus after gathering at a relative's home to celebrate a birthday.

The family's plea to the public to stay safe and follow recommended COVID-19 guidelines comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged Americans to strictly limit their Thanksgiving holiday gatherings amid rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in all 50 states.

"One life that is lost that could have been prevented by not gathering is one life too many, and one life is worth just staying at home," Alexa Aragonez, who created a video of her family that was shared on Twitter, told "Good Morning America." "Think about how much you love each other for you not to infect each other. That’s what my family is talking about nowadays."

Aragonez, of Arlington, Texas, said eight members of her family, including her 57-year-old mom, attended a small gathering at Aragonez's cousin's home on Nov. 1. The gathering totaled 12 people, according to Aragonez, who did not attend because of a previous commitment.

Aragonez noted her extended family has followed COVID-19 safety guidelines since the start of the pandemic, including wearing face masks, avoiding large gatherings and only frequenting essential businesses. When the cousin texted the family asking them over for fajitas and birthday cake, they thought nothing of the invite, according to Aragonez.

"We thought that if we know that everyone in our nuclear cell has taken care of themselves and they’ve gone to work and come back home, and that’s all we do, then we’ll be fine," she said of their strategy of forming a so-called "pandemic pod." "The family didn’t really think too much of [the birthday invitation] because they knew they’ve taken care of themselves for a long time."

Nonetheless, shortly after the Nov. 1 gathering, which took place indoors, family members began to feel symptoms of COVID-19, including body aches and fever, coughing, fatigue and loss of taste and smell. Out of an abundance of caution, the family members got tested for COVID-19 and self-isolated in their homes.

In the end, all 12 people who attended the gathering tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to three other family members who came in contact with attendees, according to Aragonez, who said she tested negative for the virus.

"It was just a low-key gathering, but people just put their guard down," Aragonez said. "They didn’t plan on sitting indoors, but as soon as they got there, they were chitchatting and talking, and then they just sat down around the kitchen bar and sat in the living room. They just fell back into old habits."

Aragonez's mother, Enriqueta Aragonez, the oldest family member at the gathering, suffered the most severe symptoms of COVID-19. She was hospitalized for seven days and was treated for cardiovascular complications, according to Aragonez.

Enriqueta Aragonez was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 19 and is still suffering from side effects more than 20 days after contracting the virus.

"My mom will probably have to take heart medication for the rest of her life, so while people are not dying, they’re not living to the quality of life that they were beforehand," Aragonez said. "It's a long road to recovery."

Aragonez said her family hopes other families will learn from their mistake. The video of the family speaking out was shared on Twitter by the City of Arlington account.

"We’re just like any other family that takes care of themselves day in and day out, that thinks they’re safe with their own family and they let their guard down," Aragonez said. "This is a prime example of what not to do and what happens all too often."

The CDC has urged Americans to not travel for Thanksgiving this year and to celebrate the holiday with only the people with whom they live.

If people are celebrating Thanksgiving this year outside of their home, even among family members, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask, staying at least six feet away from others who do not live with you, hand washing, limiting food and drink sharing, staying outdoors and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and items.

If a gathering is held indoors, the CDC also recommends opening windows and doors, if possible, and using a window fan in an open window to blow air out, in addition to the recommendations previously mentioned.

Aragonez said she hopes families "get creative" this holiday season and think beyond this year's celebrations to future ones.

"If you just adjust the way you celebrate holidays this year, you can better guarantee holidays to follow," she said, suggesting families use technology like Zoom to celebrate together. "You don’t necessarily have to be in the physical presence of one another to feel closeness as a family."