The Coronado family (left) are grateful to being healthy as is Steve Reyes (right) who both came down with COVID -19 recently. Gina Coronado said, “It’s been a long stressful battle and also grateful for all those that called her, brought over food and other necessities. Steve Reyes shared what it was like for him to go through the virus experience, “I was like every day, getting worse was on my mind. All I could do was watch TV and think… ‘What happens if it gets worse? Will we make it through all this?’” Many families are going through these emotions here in the metro and around the country. Coronado and Reyes families are saying to family and friends, stay home this Thanksgiving Day for the sake of your loved ones.

By Joe Arce and Corey Crable
An in-depth report

Gina Coronado has much to be thankful for this holiday season – namely, the good health that she and her children are currently enjoying after a long, stressful battle with COVID-19.

Just two months ago, she says, the weight of an entire household of people fighting the virus sat heavily on her mind – and her body – for several weeks.

“It came out of nowhere, and it hit us hard and fast,” says Coronado, a local resident, adding that she and four of her five children were diagnosed in late September. “We’re still dealing with symptoms from it. But we are fortunate to be able to be recovering. My kids recovered faster than I did.”

Only her 13-year-old son was spared from the physical and emotional ravages of the virus – even Coronado’s young baby came down with the illness, though the infant’s symptoms were only mild, she says.

For Coronado, parenting five active, healthy children without living through a global pandemic is challenging enough, but with her entire household down for the count this fall and no other childcare help in sight, things looked pretty bleak pretty quickly.

“Having five kids, there isn’t a lot that can scare me, but going through this made me stop and think, and I just kept praying that we would get better,” Coronado says. “Your health is something you can’t take for granted. You just never know.”

No one knows that better than Coronado’s own parents, who both came down with COVID-19 as well (they have now recovered, Coronado reports). It was just another stressful development in a situation that only seemed to grow worse by the day.

“I felt so guilty. I thought they contracted it from being around me and my kids,” says Coronado, adding that one of the children’s paternal grandparents were diagnosed, too. “That was even more scary because of their age and prior health issues.”

One thing for which Coronado was thankful was the ability to work from home once her symptoms and those of her children began to disappear. Though she had to use nearly all of her paid time off from her job, and even though finances are still tight in her household, she says she is thankful for the income it provides. It’s one bright spot in a world of uncertainty right now.

“I’ve been working from home except for when I was very sick,” Coronado says of the period of three weeks when her illness and her children’s illness was the worst. “I am blessed to work for a place that is holding my job, and we’re taking care of our own in the community. But it’s definitely affected me financially.”

Coronado isn’t alone in her struggles as temperatures plummet and fall will soon become winter, the numbers of reported cases of COVID continue to climb in the Kansas City metro area. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t know a friend or family member who has been sick with the virus.

“Everyone around me is coming down with COVID,” Coronado notes. “There are handfuls of people I know coming down with it. It has hit us so hard in the Latino community. I hope and pray we can overcome this, but for right now, it’s a scary time. … I can count on both my hands now the people I know who have passed away from it.”

What’s just as scary, Coronado says, is that although she, her children and her parents have all fought the virus, they can still be diagnosed with it a second time.

“I don’t know where I got it, but I do know that I passed it on to my family,” she says. “That’s unfair to them. And I know I can still bring it back to my family (a second time).”

That’s why, this Thanksgiving and Christmas, holiday celebrations will look markedly different – everyone will stay in their own household. Coronado’s children won’t be able to enjoy their grandmother’s cooking, and Coronado won’t be able to hug her parents. But Coronado says she knows it’s a necessary sacrifice to keep everyone safe.

“As my parents get older, I cherish (holiday) traditions more. It’s so hard to think we can’t experience that together this year,” says Coronado. “We are definitely going to miss my mom’s cooking, because I’m not the best chef in the kitchen. We might just have a store-bought ham.”

Coronado credits her survival to her faith in God and from friendly neighbors, friends and family members who helped make day-to-day life easier for her family while they were sick.

“My faith and my family got me by,” she says. “We had such an outpouring of support from friends and family. They would drop off meals and cleaning supplies. It was a lot from our family and friends during a dark time.”

And though the holiday will be one full of change -- and one of missed hugs and smiles – Coronado says she knows in her heart that staying home and staying safe is the right thing to do for everyone.

“Everyone has to do their part,” she says, “because (the virus) isn’t not going away and it’s only getting worse.”

Another local resident, meanwhile, is counting his blessings, too, after being diagnosed with COVID about a month before Coronado.

Steve Reyes, a local cosmetologist and mariachi musician who was diagnosed with COVID at the end of August, says his own symptoms were mild – just a light fever, as well as temporary loss of taste and smell.

“I’m glad I didn’t give it to my family, because we all have underlying issues,” says Reyes, who lives with his girlfriend and her daughter, who is a senior in high school.

Reyes ended up quarantining himself for two weeks – and a lot of time alone with one’s thoughts often can conjure up plenty of worry about worst-case scenarios.

“Every day, getting worse was on my mind. All I could do was watch TV and think,” he says. “’What happens if it gets worse? Will we make it through all this?’”

Reyes says that eventually, his thoughts turned from frustration and worry to anger about the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

“We could have had this under control a long time ago, but people are being stubborn,” says Reyes, adding that he places much of the blame on President Donald Trump and his administration. “(Trump) could have handled it a whole different way. He could have saved lives.”

In the meantime, as the death toll has steadily risen, Reyes says he’s had to bid farewell to longtime friends.

“Every day you hear about someone else getting it. It’s just unbelievable, even these people who are a picture of health,” says Reyes, adding that one of the hardest losses for him was of his friend, Tony Villegas.

“I found out he was deathly ill. He’s always supported me,” says Reyes of Villegas. “When I was sick, he came and offered whatever he could do. He and Frank Chavez both. They gave some money to our mariachi. We would have little mariachi concerts in our driveway. We had to cancel all our gigs indefinitely. But then he (Tony) passed away.”

Though he’s now back at work, Reyes says that he would be content just letting the holidays pass him by as he looks forward to a new year with new hope for defeating the deadly spread of COVID-19. Especially now, Reyes says it’s important to remember the people on the front lines of trying to boost those feelings of hope – those who work in the healthcare and law enforcement fields. Those who have taken up the duty of protecting others aren’t immune to the virus and its effects, he observes.

“It’s good to see people are taking everything responsibly. It’s hard to see a friend and not be able to give them a handshake or a hug, but you just can’t right now,” he says. “I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving. I could just forget about that day and let it pass, and hopefully next year will be better. I could take it or leave it.”

Both Coronado and Reyes say that this year, the importance of safety and keeping others’ well-being in mind is even more important during the holiday season.

“This pandemic is ruthless. It doesn’t discriminate,” Coronado says. “Wear your mask. Try to stay home. You don’t know where others have been. That unknown factor is one of the scariest things. The risk isn’t worth it.”