FARGO — Amanda Hurley took precautions when the coronavirus pandemic erupted during her pregnancy. She isolated herself at home in the weeks leading up to the due date.
Other close family members took similar precautions. Her husband’s parents live on a farm, a lifestyle ideally suited for social distancing, and her parents also isolated themselves for a couple of weeks before Hurley gave birth to a girl.
Hadleigh Hurley’s arrival on April 20 was eagerly awaited. She was Amanda and Michael’s first child. So, starting a few days after she came home, close family members came in small gatherings to meet her.
Despite their precautions, the highly contagious coronavirus snuck in and ended up infecting half of the dozen family members, four of whom became sick. It’s an example of how close contact within households and families enables the virus to spread — and how unpredictable the virus can be in those it infects.
One of Hadleigh’s visitors was Amanda Hurley’s 86-year-old grandmother, whom she met at the home of one of Amanda’s aunts.
“I felt fine that day,” Amanda said. “That night, I started feeling feverish and had chills.” She checked her temperature and was running a 100.7-degree fever.
At first, Hurley thought she might have developed an infection; Hadley was born by cesarean section. She went in for tests and the diagnosis turned up something else: COVID-19. Her own symptoms were mild. She coughed and felt like she had a cold. A few days later, she lost her sense of taste and smell.
“I couldn’t smell anything,” she said. “That was my only other symptom.”
Not all of her family members would be so lucky.
Once aware that she was infected — and therefore contagious — Hurley’s thoughts turned immediately to her elderly grandmother, Neva Satermo.
“I was terrified because my grandma has a lung condition,” requiring her to be on oxygen, she said.
Family concerns about the grandmother’s health during the pandemic, in fact, had prompted them to remove her from assisted living. Although she was active into her early 80s, her grandmother requires assistance because of her severe arthritis.
So Hurley’s father, Scott Satermo, and an aunt who had flown in from Denver joined to help care for her grandmother. The three of them gathered in isolation at Scott Satermo’s lake home near Detroit Lakes, Minn.
“We’re really concerned about her,” Scott Satermo said. Fortunately, his mother tested negative, as did he and his sister.
But in a follow-up test a week later, his elderly mother tested positive for the virus. His sister later contracted the virus, developing a headache and fever. So did another sister.
In mid-May, it was Scott Satermo’s turn, when he learned that he also had caught the virus.
“All three of us tested and all three of us were positive,” Satermo said.
“I was probably the least sick,” he said, referring to his two sisters, “but I was still pretty sick.” He had a headache, sore throat and cough. He also lost his sense of taste for a day.
Debilitating fatigue was by far his worst symptom.
“I was drained, just totally drained,” Satermo said. “I couldn’t get up.”
Somehow, although both were sick, Satermo and his sister were able to assist their arthritic mother — who never became sick, unlike two of her children and her granddaughter.
“It’s really crazy,” Satermo said. “She never had any symptoms.”
Neva Satermo survived a tuberculosis outbreak when she was young, he said. “She never got sick then either,” he said. “Maybe she has a strong immune system.”
Altogether, Satermo believes 12 family members were exposed to the virus, with four of the six who tested positive becoming sick. Hurley suspects she caught the virus during a six-day hospital stay when Hadleigh was delivered.
"We did everything we could right," she said, including having family members isolate for two weeks before meeting the baby and limiting visits to one or two guests at a time. "The only thing we did was go to the hospital to have a baby."
The virus's capricious, unpredictable nature baffles Satermo, who is puzzled over how some family members became sick and others were unscathed.
“My entire family has been exposed,” he said. “It’s a crazy story.”
Amanda Hurley’s husband, Michael, also tested positive, but never showed symptoms. The Hurleys and their doctors presume Hadleigh also contracted the virus but never became sick.
Now, all members of the Hurley-Satermo family have recovered and have ended their quarantines. Life is returning to what passes for normal in a pandemic.
“We’re all officially cleared,” Hurley said.
Satermo, a former assistant Fargo city engineer who later established a construction business, now run by a son, is eager to get back to work as the CEO of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where he commutes for his job.
“I get tired still a little bit,” Satermo said. “But my energy’s growing every day. I’ve got to get back to work.”