Washington state family loses home to wildfire, then gets COVID-19

Jessica and Matthew Graham have had the kind of month that could be described as 2020 in a nutshell: They lost their home to wildfires that pretty much wiped their hometown of Malden, Washington, off the map. Then they got COVID-19.

Luckily, Jessica and Matthew, their five children, ages 5 to 10, her parents and his mother, all survived the virus, and the couple is already on the hunt for a new home. But it wasn’t easy.

They fled the Sept. 7 Babbs-Malden fire and sought refuge at the home of Jessica’s parents before moving on to stay with friends.

“As we drove to my in-laws, my kids all excitedly got out of the minivan to go in to see grandma,” Matthew, 36, said Saturday. “And Jessica informed me that everything was gone.”

Then, in a matter of days, the Grahams contracted the coronavirus.

Matthew and Jessica Graham during a Zoom interview on Saturday.NBC News / NBC News

“My dad became sick with flu-like symptoms,” Jessica, 38, said. “So we think there’s a very good chance that we caught it from him, though he was never tested.”

Smoke-filled air from late-summer fires across Washington muddled the couple’s thoughts about their symptoms, they said.

“We started having some sinus issues, coughing, but we thought it’s hazardous air and didn’t really think too much of it,” Jessica said.

On Sept. 16, she informed Matthew that his mother contracted the virus, just a few days after she took care of their children. They believe his mother got it from the family. The Grahams got tested.

“The nurse asked me if there was a whole group of us with the same last names that had been tested,” he said. “And I told her, ‘Yeah, there are.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, they’re all positive. Everybody has it.'”

The children, ages 5 to 10, appeared to get through Covid-19 fairly quickly, the couple said. But Matthew seemed to get the worst of it, spending a week in bed at a hotel room the family used for isolation.

“People don’t adequately describe how miserable coronaviruses are, in general,” he said. “Curled up in the fetal position, not moving, that really isn’t a good state to be in.”

The bad news kept coming.

After the fire, but before testing positive, the Grahams stayed briefly with friends, who also came down with the virus. On Thursday, the couple dropped off food for the family, which includes a 14-year-old.

“They did look really miserable,” Jessica said. “We’re just praying that they’ll all be OK.”

The moral of this chapter for the Grahams is that people should get tested for the virus at the slightest sign of symptoms, the couple said.

“My dad was skeptical of the test, because of all that information going around,” Jessica said. “And if he had just gone and got tested and was positive, we would have known right away to go into quarantine.

“I would just really urge people to get tested,” she said.

Yasmine Salam and Shamar Walters contributed.

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