A Washington state family faced a life-altering challenge after losing their home in a fire on Sept. 7 — but the tough times weren’t over. Days later, all seven of the Grahams contracted the coronavirus.
Jessica Graham told NBC News that she, her husband and their kids had left their home to visit family when they got a call from a friend who lives in the same town, Malden, Washington, saying there was a fire nearby. Graham started to monitor Facebook for updates and later learned that 60 to 70% of houses in the town were on fire, her husband, Matthew Graham, recalled to NBC News.
The couple decided to find a safe place to stay and landed on Graham’s parents’. As they arrived with their five kids, all between the ages of 5 and 10, in tow, they learned the news.
“Everything was gone. … All day, that was our greatest fear, that we were going to lose everything and that there’d be so much devastation,” Matthew Graham said. “(It’s) just kind of baffling, just knocks the wind out of you.”
He added that his 7-year-old took the news especially hard because her pet ferret was in the house.
“She was so devastated to realize that her ferret had to have died,” he recalled. “Trying to console her was so hard. … That was a sober time for sure.”
The Grahams speculated that they were infected with COVID-19 within one to three days of losing their home, possibly by Jessica’s father. Graham said her dad had developed “flu-like symptoms” but was never tested. The family started to show symptoms as well but chalked it up to the poor air quality from the fires. They realized when Matthew Graham’s mother tested positive for COVID-19 after babysitting the kids.
“I was feeling pretty tired and drained,” Matthew Graham explained. “Everybody had it, and all the kids had one or two days of having headaches and coughs. … It is more like a 24-hour bug for them, and then for us, not so much so. People don’t adequately describe how miserable coronavirus is in general.”
“I got hit with this insane exhaustion where I spent a week in bed pretty much, and I would start feeling good and get out of bed, and within five minutes, I’d be back lying down again because I was just so tired,” he continued. “My whole body was aching. … I would just lay down like not even moving my arms or legs or anything just like a statue.”
Matthew Graham said he’s much better now but still “not up to 100%.” His wife’s symptoms weren’t as bad, but she was also hit with severe bouts of exhaustion “at random times,” she said, adding that she feels about 95%.
No one in the Graham’s family has been hospitalized for their illnesses. The couple’s parents are also recovering well.
One of the major challenges for the family as a result of this one-two punch has been not participating in rebuilding their town.
“It felt very isolating, not being able to be around everybody else who had experienced the same thing and be able to better explore options of what we wanted to do,” Jessica Graham said.
All the while, though, they’ve been stressing to their kids the importance of resilience.
“As a family, we are very strong on people,” Matthew Graham said. “Right from the get-go, I told our children that we are going to get (through) this. And it might be a really interesting nine months to a year, but a year from now, we’re going to be great, and we just need to push through it and get it done.”
As the Grahams search for their new home, they want to stress to the public the importance of getting tested for COVID-19 and seeking out accurate information about the coronavirus.
Jessica Graham explained: “My dad was skeptical of the test because of all that information going around, so he didn’t see any need to get tested. And if he had just gone and got tested and was positive, we would have known right away to go into quarantine. … Just be careful what you believe on social media.”