Candice Lepek and her family thought they were being careful during the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn't stop the virus from spreading to them and eventually infecting her - a 34-year-old breast cancer survivor.
Now, weeks after her diagnosis, she's still battling symptoms and has a message for families planning to get together this Thanksgiving,
"I write in all my posts, 'Is it worth it?'" Lepek said.
Lepek was diagnosed with coronavirus nearly one month ago.
"The COVID went into my lungs- pneumonia in both lungs," Lepek said.
Still, even weeks after her diagnosis, Lepek continues to have a fever and a painful cough, among other symptoms.
"When I got it I didn't think it would last like this," she said.
Lepek is considered by medical professionals a "long-hauler," which includes those who experience symptoms for weeks or even months after contracting it, but don't require hospitalization.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged people not to travel.
"We don’t have to have 'super spreader' events at homes throughout our state and throughout the country and bring it back," Illinois' Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said this week. "Please reconsider your plans and be part of the solution to decrease infections, instead of part of the plan to increase them."
Still, crowds and lines have been reported at airports in Chicago as people depart for holiday gatherings.
Photos showed people lined up in terminals and checking in for flights on Tuesday morning, one day after the Transportation Security Administration reported the highest number of passengers boarding flights nationwide over the weekend since March.
On Sunday, 1,047,934 people were screened at U.S. airports, the highest number of passengers boarding flights in a single day since March 16, according to the TSA. In all, over three million people were screened over the weekend. While that's far lower than during the same time last year, Friday also marked only the second time since mid-March that daily airport screenings topped 1 million.
"We're alarmed," said Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, adding that the country has seen an "exponential increase" in cases, hospitalizations and deaths recently. "One of our concerns is that as people over the holiday season get together, they may actually be bringing infections with them to that small gathering and not even know it."
People are advised to celebrate virtually or only with members of their own household.
"This would not happen in any other year," Ezike said Tuesday. "We have to accept what we're dealing with - a global pandemic the likes of which no one has ever seen before... I'm sorry but that's what it is now so that we can have our traditional Thanksgiving in 2021."
Still, Ezike and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledged as airports continue to fill that some are not heeding their warnings.
Lepek, who said she plans to celebrate with her family via Zoom, said she hopes her story can possibly change even one mind.
"It spread through my family and we were careful," she said. "It is not a joke."