A small family gathering a few days ago led to community spread throughout McKalee Steen's family. She has a message for the Delaware County community which was in the Red Alert Zone throughout October.

The Steen family is one of many who have had COVID invade their home. McKalee Steen grew up in Grove and was a junior in high school when her father, Tom Steen the Superintendent of Grove Schools, passed away unexpectedly. 

Now McKalee is working on her Ph.D. in environmental science after graduating from Vanderbilt last year. Recently she became one of the 9 million COVID victims and has a clear message for area residents.  

In March when the pandemic struck, McKalee retreated to her hometown and has stayed home and surrounded herself only with about 10 members of her family. She was particularly concerned about her 77-year-old grandmother and the 7-month-old nephew that she was babysitting.  

However, a small family gathering a few days ago led to community spread throughout her family. She has a message for the Delaware County community which was in the Red Alert Zone throughout October. 

McKaLee’s message: 

“I thought that rural America would be the place to ride out a pandemic. I thought this for many reasons. Because in rural America we look out for each other. We support our neighbors. We love one another and lift each other up through difficult times. I saw how this community came together for my family when my dad died, and again 16 months later when my grandpa died (in 2014 and 2016). I’ve seen it when neighbors check on each other and help clean up after tornadoes. When kids at the high school raise thousands of dollars to do good in the community.

I thought we could do the same through this pandemic.

I was wrong. I have covid-19.

There’s been a lot of unhelpful moralizing about this virus. I have been the most careful person.

I’m around my 77-year-old grandmother and my 7-month-old nephew frequently and the fear of passing anything on to them is paralyzing. I haven’t been to a nail salon, restaurant, or grocery store since the first week of March. I wear a mask when I get gas or go to the post office. Otherwise, I live on our family farm, where our closest neighbor is over half a mile away, and I have a bubble of about 10 family members that I see.

We had a small family dinner where one of the family members (that I am usually around) had COVID. They didn’t know it and didn’t have symptoms until the next day. I do not blame this family member - they have also been so, so careful. But that one dinner spread the virus to multiple family members.

One evening. With people that had all been as careful as you can be. And most of us there got sick.

All of us are LUCKY that our symptoms have been somewhat mild. And by mild, I mean high fever, extreme fatigue, loss of smell, sore throats, at times low oxygen levels, congestion, a cough, etc. This is not something to mess around with. It took me 10 plus days to feel like I could function again, and I’m still fatigued and not to 100% yet. I’m on day 14, after developing my first symptoms.

If you hear nothing else from this post hear this:

Every person that thinks this is a hoax is a slap in the face to the health concerns and anxiety that is facing my family - and thousands of others. Every person that doesn’t wear a mask is a slap in the face to the over 200,000 people that have died from this virus. Every large gathering you hold with disregard for the health and well-being of those you may interact with later is a slap in the face. I’ve seen the most horrible and gut-wrenching rhetoric used in rural America to justify not wearing a mask or re-opening businesses.

I am disappointed. And I am paying the price of others not being careful, when I have done everything in my power to stop the spread of this thing.

Let’s be clear. We’re 8 months into this and still setting records.

Buckle up.

It only gets more difficult from here. We’re going to have to make difficult choices in this moment of collective separation for the greater good. For the health of our grandparents and babies. Skip the football game. Skip the party. Don’t go to the bar.

I’ve sacrificed a lot over the past 8 months. And it has been the easiest thing to do to stay home! I didn’t get to have my graduation. I didn’t get to start my PhD like I wanted to. I don’t get to see friends or go grab a drink when I want. SO WHAT. PEOPLE ARE DYING. There are bigger things going on in this world. If I have to be uncomfortable for a little bit I can do my damn part. It sucks, missing these moments. But I’m happy to sacrifice these moments if it means protecting others.

I hope you can find a way to do the same. For our frontline workers and for those who have lost someone in this pandemic. I hope you can realize how easy your part is.

Wear your damn mask and be kind to people.