As Coronavirus Infects Whole Households, Families Must Have ‘Tough Love’ Conversations

April 29, 2020
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Coronavirus continues to infect thousands of Americans. Still, many don’t see the risk and choose to avoid precautions like social distancing.

The virus may feel fictitious for some — until it suddenly doesn’t. 

Some families are learning the hard way about what can happen when people you live with ignore social distancing guidelines.

Rashida Patterson
Photo credit Rashida Patterson

“I just didn’t think it would spread that fast,” said Rashida Patterson, who spent Monday in the emergency room. “My symptoms started with shortness of breath, but I have asthma, so at first I thought it was that.”

The 41-year-old mother of three became ill a week ago with a fever, chills and exhaustion. Three days later, she mustered up the strength to go to a mobile COVID-19 testing site. The next day, she received the diagnosis — and she’s pretty sure she knows how she got it.

“My son didn’t didn’t take it seriously. He kept bringing people to my house,” she said.

The teenager frequently brought visitors into her home, and she believes one of them ended up infecting not just her, but the entire household.

But the problem continued to spread even more. Another family member, who does not live in the Patterson household, brought them food while they were sick. That family member ended up taking the virus back to her home.

“In just hours from Sunday, their whole house is infected,” Patterson said. “My whole house is infected.”

In all, nine members of her family have tested positive for COVID-19, including their grandmother, who is in her late 70s.

“She got rushed to the hospital,” Patterson recalled. “She’s in the hospital today. This virus is real.”

“It’s difficult — we are in a quandary right now,” explained Dr. Argie Allen Wilson, a relationship therapist who runs Connections Matter LLC. 

Allen Wilson said our natural inclination is to be closer to relatives during stressful times like these, but the pandemic is forcing us all to have tough conversations with those who blatantly ignore social distancing guidelines and put loved ones at risk.

As the loud voice in his family, Udo has been reminding everyone of the guidelines, but his effort apparently fell on deaf ears. 

Udo’s father is currently recovering from COVID-19.

“My brother was being irresponsible,” he said. “He violated a stay-at-home order to travel to Michigan with his girlfriend.”

The couple contracted COVID-19 while on that trip, though they were both asymptomatic. His 30-year-old brother later tested positive and brought it back to St. Louis, where he lives with their father.

“My dad is high-risk. He’s older, he has diabetes — he is all of those things for the people that this is hitting the hardest,” he said. “I couldn’t believe (my brother) did that.”

Even if people are lenient on social distancing, they can be asymptomatic and still pass the virus along, evident in Udo’s case. Allen Wilson said that often goes unreported.

“We don’t necessarily get that much control over other people’s lives,” she said, “so we have to reconcile that.”

She said individuals must accept that they cannot force loved ones to follow social-distancing guidelines or abide by stay-at-home orders, but they do need to explain the risks.

“We have to make different choices that will allow us to live to see another day,” she added, “or we’ll be playing Russian roulette with our lives and the lives of those we love.”

If you need to have the tough love talk with a loved one, Allen Wilson pointed to a five-step process to walk them through itl. She said they need to:

1. Accept this new reality.
2. Adjust their thinking so they understand they must change.
3. Adapt their habits and practices.
4. Appreciate growth once change occurs.
5. Reset their attitude, once the other steps are in place.

“If we stay healthy, then we can start making better choices and decisions for our loved ones,” she noted. “We can be here for them.”

If we don’t take precautions now, Allen Wilson said the guilt from the loss of a loved one could be just as devastating. 

“If you didn’t have the information, you can take solace in that you didn’t know,” she said. “But if you did … that is very, very hard to deal with.”

Udo agrees, so he’s stepping up to encourage everyone he loves to follow the guidelines.

“It’s tough love,” he said. “Love doesn’t always come in the form you want it to come, but we have to have these conversations.”

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