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July 23, 2020

'We let our guard down': Two physicians skipped masks at a family gathering—and 8 people caught the coronavirus

Daily Briefing

    When Alabama physicians Miles and Brytney Cobia held a gathering with close family members, eight out of the 11 people who attended the gathering ended up testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Now, the Cobias are warning everyone to "wear a mask everywhere," including around family and friends, MedPage Today's Kristina Fiore reports.

    Are outdoor gatherings safe? Here's what experts say.

    A family gathering

    Miles and Brytney are both physicians, so they took a lot of precautions both at the hospital and outside of work to protect themselves and others against the coronavirus.

    According to Fiore, Miles and Brytney were seeing only family and a few close friends who also were being cautious about protecting themselves from the coronavirus. The Cobias even canceled their July vacation to Florida after the state's coronavirus case count continued to increase.

    But after canceling their vacation, the Cobias decided to spend a July weekend at a lake in Alabama. Miles and Bryntey invited some of their closest family members, including their elderly parents, to spend a day with them at the lake. The guests arrived around noon on Saturday, stayed the night, and left Sunday afternoon.

    Miles and Brytney told Fiore the gathering was mostly outside, and that everyone was careful to physically distance themselves from others—but no one wore masks.

    'Patient zero'

    On Monday, Brytney started to experience symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. She had a low-grade fever of 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a sore throat, fatigue, congestion, and sneezing. Eventually, Brytney and Miles tested positive for the coronavirus.

    Miles and Brytney tried to figure out where they'd contracted the virus. There were no known cases at their daughter's daycare, and Miles hadn't been in the hospital since June. They were also pretty sure their family members hadn't seen anyone else outside of their bubble.

    Ultimately, Brytney had to conclude that she was the "patient zero" of the group, though she's not sure how she contracted the virus, Fiore reports. Brytney said she had access to personal protective equipment and, since she was pregnant, she wasn't allowed in the hospital's Covid-19 wards. "In the 14 days before symptom onset, we hadn't been anywhere besides home and work, so my best guess is that I was exposed by another employee, or perhaps by a patient who had a false-negative test," she said.

    Once Miles and Brytney realized they were infected with the coronavirus, they called their family members and told them to wait 72 hours and then get tested for the virus.

    Of the 11 people who went to the lake house, eight people, including Miles and Brytney, tested positive. The Cobias said they think their two-year-old daughter also was showing symptoms of Covid-19.

    Miles experienced mild congestion, a headache, fatigue, and decreased appetite, but other family members reported worse symptoms, according to Fiore.

    Some family members reported fevers between 101- and 102-degrees Fahrenheit, as well as nausea and diarrhea. One family member even developed pneumonia and is being treated at home. According to Miles, every family member has lost their sense of smell.

    'Nobody is safe'

    Miles said, even though he and Brytney are both doctors, they clearly "had a false sense of security" about the coronavirus. "We haven't been going to bars, weddings, mass beach gatherings. We felt we were doing something isolated, that we'd be okay," he said.

    Miles shared his and Brytney's story in a tweet to warn others to take as many precautions as possible against the virus. "We did not mask while visiting with family because we let our guard down and thought we were safe," he wrote, adding that he and Brytney "take full responsibility for the mistake." He wrote, "We had become used to relying on this small group for socialization during this and it's devastating that even this failed. Regardless, I want people to use us as an example and learn just how contagious [the coronavirus] can be."

    Miles said he hopes their "story can teach people to take the maximum precautions if they do gather," especially as "Covid fatigue" sets in. "People are starting to do things like go to weddings, but there's still a risk associated with that," he said. "There may even be a higher risk now than compared with March or April. The amount of virus is higher now."

    Brytney said the experience proved that "nobody is safe" from the coronavirus. And in a Facebook post, she warned people against making the same mistake that she and Miles did. "Don't be me. Don't wear a mask everywhere else in the world EXCEPT around your core. Your core is probably more important to you than anyone! … Don't be patient zero for the ones you love" (Fiore, Medpage Today, 7/21).

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