The Hastey family of El Paso -- John Sr., Lila, and John Jr. -- all tested positive for COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of the Hastey family)

An entire El Paso family contracted COVID-19. Now on the road to recovery, they have a message of warning for El Pasoans growing lax as Texas reopens. 

“The scary thing about this virus is that we’re still learning about it. We need to be very cautious, and as things start reopening, that caution is kind of getting thrown out the window. But I tell you, as soon as you get it, you will understand how it feels. You’ll be like, I should have done this. Listen to people that are going through it,” says John Hastey, a 37-year-old Sam’s Club employee who tested positive for COVID-19 on May 22. 

John lives with his parents, Lila and John Sr., both of whom are 65 and have pre-existing health conditions. Lila has pre-diabetes and asthma, and John Sr. has high blood pressure and a heart condition that he regulates with medication. John Jr. said that because his parents are immuno-compromised, he took COVID-19 very seriously from the outset of the pandemic.

“When everything started (with COVID-19), I’d leave my shoes outside (after coming home from work), wash my clothes and go straight to the shower. Because I’ve been around people all day,” he said.

John Hastey Jr. and his mother, Lila. (Photo courtesy of the Hastey family)

But as time went on, John began to relax his COVID-19 preventative measures. 

“Every once in a while, I would come home and be tired, so I’d just stay in my room and sleep, or go sit down and eat. As time went by you just kind of went, ‘It’s alright, everybody’s fine.’ And then all the sudden the first person at my work got sick, all the sudden there’s rumors going around, ‘Someone got COVID, somebody got COVID.’”

Dad gets sick first

Lila is a nurse at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, and his dad (a retired pastor) had been regularly volunteering at the food bank. Because of this, none of the Hasteys are sure who got COVID-19 first or where it came from. But not too long after coronavirus cases were reported at John Jr.’s work, John Sr. got sick. 

“My dad gets it first, and this dread comes over you. But I just go, God is in control, whatever happens is going to happen.” John Jr. said he stayed calm when they found out his dad had COVID-19, but that it became increasingly frightening. “I would tell my friends, ‘I’m not ready to lose my folks.’ When you’re presented with your own mortality and the mortality of your family, it’s a scary thing.” 

John Sr. got heat stroke while handing out food boxes; he delayed going to the hospital for several days because he didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms. But after four days of feeling increasingly ill, Lila eventually took him to the emergency room on May 19. There, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was diagnosed with pneumonia.

John Hastey Sr. and Jr. (Photo courtesy of the Hastey family)

While Lila was taking John Sr. to the hospital, John Jr. was at the gym, which had reopened on May 18. It was his second time visiting the gym since it’s reopening, and when John Jr. found out his dad had tested positive for COVID-19, he immediately began to self-quarantine, and notified both his work and the gym. 

“If I have it, my job is to stay home, so that other people don’t get it. The people that can die because of it — I don’t want to be part of that. I don’t want anybody to get COVID because of me,” John Jr. said. 

He said his gym closed immediately, and he and his mother went to get COVID tests the next morning at a walk-in urgent care. Their test results came back two days later on May 22, both positive. 

Both parents hospitalized

On May 23, Lila started feeling sick with body aches and a slight fever. A registered nurse, Lila began monitoring her oxygen levels with an oximeter the Hasteys keep at home. Once her oxygen levels dipped into the 80’s, she decided it was time to go to the hospital. 

When she went to check into the ER, she showed paperwork that demonstrated she had tested positive for COVID-19 before entering the building, and was directed to a different entrance, where medical workers in full personal protective equipment helped her into the COVID-19 area of the hospital. 

Lila and John Sr. were kept on oxygen the entire time they were at the hospital, and were sent home after six and eight days respectively. Now that they are back at home, they continue to receive oxygen through a machine, and John Jr. has been taking care of them, preparing food and cleaning. John Jr. has been asymptomatic since testing positive.

Sharing lessons learned

Although it looks like the Hastey family are in the clear for now, they will be tightening their COVID-19 preventative measures, since there is no conclusive science to indicate they’ll have future immunity from getting the virus again. 

“When I go back to work, it’s definitely going to be way different this time around. I’m going to be very very cautious, I’m going to treat it as if I can get it again, because they don’t know. Maybe I can contract it again,” John Jr. said. 

Lila and John Hastey Sr. (Photo courtesy of the Hastey family)

He encourages El Pasoans to continue practicing rigorous social distancing and taking active precautions against the spread of COVID-19. He emphasizes that doing this is not about protecting yourself, but protecting fellow community members from the virus who may be at greater immuno risk or less financially secure.

“We’re blessed that we all (the Hastey family) have health insurance, but if people don’t have insurance, how are they going to pay for their hospital bill? Stay home man, some people aren’t as privileged as others, and we need to protect those that don’t have the means to protect themselves. Stop thinking about me me me, let’s start thinking about us. Let’s all band together and fight it together.”

Cover photo: The Hastey family of El Paso — John Sr., Lila, and John Jr. — all tested positive for COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of the Hastey family)

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.