Cathrine Solomon is a 34-year-old nurse in New York City who lost both of her parents to COVID-19. She also contracted COVID-19 and is now a “long-hauler,” having experienced symptoms for more than seven months.
Ahead of Election Day, COURIER spoke to five Americans who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another. Read more of their stories here.
March 6 was the last day Cathrine Solomon saw both of her parents alive. Her father was experiencing a medical issue following a procedure days earlier, and Solomon, who works as a STEM cell transplant nurse in Manhattan, picked him and her mother up from the emergency room to drive them home.
“That was the last time I was with my parents together,” Solomon told COURIER, through tears.
At the time, the coronavirus outbreak had not yet been declared a crisis. There were less than 500 cases in the United States, and Solomon, 34, admits she and her colleagues weren’t taking the virus as seriously as they should have. They had no idea that it had been silently spreading throughout New York City, setting the stage for one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Within a week, Solomon and both of her parents began to feel symptoms associated with COVID-19. Within two weeks, her mom Estelita and her dad Antonio found themselves in separate hospitals, each relying on a ventilator to do the work their lungs couldn’t.
Her father was the first to be intubated; it was March 19. “He was having difficulty breathing. He couldn’t talk,” Solomon recounted. “The last thing he said was, ‘Take care of your mom.’”
Estelita took a turn for the worse that same afternoon and also had to be intubated. “It was so traumatic for my sister and I, because none of us could be there,” Solomon said.
Over the next week, her father’s health continued to decline. Antonio went into organ failure on March 26 and died later that night. He was 71 years old.
While grappling with her father’s passing, Solomon’s own symptoms grew worse. Her fever spiked to nearly 105 degrees and her oxygen saturation was in the low 90s, nearing a dangerous level, prompting her boyfriend to take to the Emergency Room. They ran a panel of tests, including one for COVID-19, which came back positive. But Solomon did not want to be admitted to the hospital and her numbers improved enough to where the hospital discharged her with medication.
On April 10, Solomon was informed by her mother’s treatment team that Estelita wasn’t going to make it. As they did with their father just two weeks earlier, Solomon and her sister FaceTimed their mother to say their final goodbyes. Estelita Solomon was 72 years old.
The Solomons were just two of the more than 18,000 New Yorkers to die from COVID-19 in March and April.
The passing of both of her parents devastated Solomon. “I went into depression,” she said. “People don’t realize how traumatic this was for a lot of families.”
She added: “If I saw an article or a podcast or I wanted to see something about COVID-19, I couldn’t, because I just started crying automatically. It just hurt me so much that I couldn’t listen.”
Solomon’s grief—which she’s working to deal with now through counseling—has been complicated by the fact that some of her symptoms have persisted for seven months, making her one of the tens of thousands of “long-haulers” who continue to feel the effects of COVID-19 months after being diagnosed.
Solomon returned to work in May, but has struggled to get through each day. She can’t walk for more than 30 minutes and stairs leave her struggling to breathe.
“I have extreme fatigue by the time I get home,” she said. “I eat and I always fall asleep on the couch, and my boyfriend has to wake me up and bring me to bed because I’m just so tired. I was never like this before.”
As her symptoms have persisted, Solomon has had difficulty finding things to boost her spirits. “Even things that are supposed to make me happy—I don’t even feel that happiness anymore,” she said. “It’s a struggle and people really don’t realize what we’re going through on a daily basis.”
Her grief has also been exacerbated by the national response to the pandemic, or lack thereof. The constant chatter about the virus being overblown or being a hoax has angered her as a nurse, a survivor, and someone who lost both parents to COVID-19.
“I wish people took it seriously and didn’t say it was just like the flu, because it’s not like the flu,” she said. “The flu doesn’t cause you to have residual symptoms seven months later.”
While making clear that she “hates” politics and doesn’t consider herself a Democrat or a Republican, Solomon said much of the blame for the divisiveness of the pandemic lies at the feet of President Donald Trump, who has faced intense scrutiny over his failure to spearhead a coordinated national response. He has also repeatedly downplayed the virus, even though it’s since been revealed that he understood its severity as early as February.
She believes the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic is part of the reason Americans didn’t take the virus seriously at first. “If the federal government took it more seriously then and said to wear masks and not just wash hands, I believe these numbers wouldn’t be this high,” Solomon said.
Ultimately, Solomon wishes Trump, other leaders, and even everyday Americans had more compassion and understanding for those who’ve been through such trauma and lost loved ones.
“Our family members, just because they were older, it doesn’t mean that it was okay for them to die. No one person is better than the other and nobody is dispensable,” she said. “They were not just numbers, they were people. They mattered to people.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story had Solomon’s age incorrect. We regret the error.