At this moment, more than 104,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus and more than 1.8 million have been infected. It can be hard to wrap your head around the devastation the coronavirus has wreaked on families across the US, especially as some states try to gradually reopen and return to whatever normal looks like now.

As part of its stellar Voices from the Pandemic series, The Washington Post has a first-person account of a nursing home worker whose mother died of suspected coronavirus last month. Francene Bailey had been suffering from coronavirus symptoms for weeks and was trying to stay away from the rest of her family.

The thing is, I was trying so hard to be careful from the very beginning. It’s not like I was one of those people who didn’t pay attention. I work at a nursing home. I knew how fast this virus could spread. As soon as a few of the residents started spiking fevers in March, I went online to buy extra masks. We didn’t have the right protective supplies, and you can’t social distance when you’re a nursing aide.

Bailey came home with a headache, started coughing and physically isolated herself from the rest of the household, including her concerned 70-year-old mother who offered home remedies and kept checking on her.

But during a moment of motherly concern, she lowered her face mask.

I was gasping and sobbing. I couldn’t talk. She told me: “Take off your mask. Let the air in.”

I pulled my mask down around my neck, and she held me. I needed it, and she needed to help. Our faces were touching. I was breathing on her. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I leaned on her until I was calm again, and then I put my mask back on and went upstairs.

Within a few days, Bailey’s mother had a cough, and was hospitalized within a week. Ten days later, her mother died.

Having Bailey tell her family’s coronavirus story to the Post in her own words is especially crushing. She blames herself for catching a contagious virus that her mother also caught, rather than blaming the lack of protective equipment at the nursing home where she worked, or the incompetence of government officials in handling the outbreak (which is where the blame frankly belongs).

Next time someone questions why you should wear a face mask or practice social distancing or otherwise take precautions against spreading a deadly virus, show them Francene Bailey’s story. It’s not an easy read, but that’s sort of the point.

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