Refugees Ibrahim Aldabaan and Adeebah Alnemar and their five children escaped Syria’s bloody civil war to restart their life in Connecticut in 2016. The family moved to West Hartford, where Alnemar got a job working as a cook for a Catholic church, and Aldabaan found work delivering packages for Amazon. But now, the refugee family is facing a new hardship: both parents have contracted COVID-19.
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Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live profiled the family back in 2019, and we decided to check in with them to see how they were doing in the midst of this global pandemic.
Aldabaan said when they first heard about coronavirus, the family was worried, especially because he and their young son Ahmad suffer from asthma.
“We were really scared, and we tried to stay home, but we have a lot of pressing commitments -- rent and so on,” said Aldabaan. “We tried to keep going because we have so many obligations to keep up with. Ahmad and I had shortness of breath, which was the scariest part.”
Alnemar, Aldabaan’s wife, says the family did everything they could to try to stay safe.
“The way it started out with me -- from the start I was taking every precaution,” she said. “I’d put on a mask before going out and wear gloves. I was careful; I was constantly changing my clothes and everything. But then I felt a burning in my throat. My throat hurt, and I had a fever, and I felt tired. So, I talked to my husband, and he told me he was feeling sick as well and had a fever after about three days.”
Because both parents had COVID-19 symptoms, the family talked to their doctor and decided they needed to get tested for the disease. That’s because while Alnemar’s work as a cook stopped during the pandemic, Aldabaan says he couldn’t get time off and had to keep showing up for his Amazon package delivery job until he could show his employer a positive test result.
Their high school-aged son Naji Aldabaan speaks English best in the family and often acts as their translator.
Naji says he started making calls to health care providers to find out where they could get tested for COVID-19.
“At some points my parents actually told me -- don’t worry about it; we don’t think they’re going to test us,” said Naji. “That’s how difficult it was to get tested. But I kept trying, kept calling different places, and eventually we got them tested.”
After a failed attempt when they were turned away due to long wait times, Aldabaan and Alnemar were finally tested at the Saint Francis Hospital drive-through site in Hartford.
Three days later, their doctor called to say both parents had tested positive for COVID-19.
Coming from Syria, the family said they had high expectations for the American health care system, so they’ve been surprised by the country’s handling of the pandemic.
“Being in America, a developed country, they should be taking better care of people, especially children,” said Aldabaan. “It turned out that we had the virus, and they sent us home. Back in our country, a developing country, they have places to quarantine infected people, so that they don’t pass the virus on to the rest of their family members.”
With both parents sick at home, Aldabaan says they’ve applied for unemployment, but they don't expect to hear back soon because of the backlog. He’s also applied for Amazon’s two-week paid leave for those who test positive for COVID-19.
But with the loss of Alnemar’s income, the family says they’re worried about the bills. “So, I got together what I had, and three or four days ago I paid this month’s bills, and I paid the rent. But I know that next month is going to be a problem,” said Aldabaan.
In spite of this, the Aldabaan family says they’ve received help from friends in their mosque community as well as the Catholic church where Alnemar works. They’re grateful to the friends who’ve brought them food during this time. And Alnemar says she’s looking forward to recovering so she can pay it forward.
“I hope that my children and my family and I come out of this crisis healthy and safe, and that I can help the American people the way that they’ve helped me,” she said.
But for now, the parents have to focus on taking care of their own family of five children while recovering from COVID-19 themselves.