Two parents are dead and their son is speaking out in hopes of preventing other families from making the same fatal mistake.
Joseph Bruno and his family, like most Americans, changed their habits this year to stay safe, he tells PEOPLE. His parents, Mike and Carol Bruno, canceled their usual family gatherings and didn’t see their kids in person despite living nearby in the Chicago area, instead talking to them over the phone or on video.
“We’re a very close Italian family, so we’re used to seeing each other quite often and hugging and kissing, and we sacrificed all of that all year,” Joseph says.
But in November, Joseph and his sister decided that a quick visit with their mom would be okay. His sister had just tested negative for COVID-19 and quarantined at home for about three days afterwards, and Joseph “wasn’t really going anywhere.”
Joseph’s sister brought Carol, 79, over to his apartment for pizza and to give Joseph a quick haircut. The Brunos stayed distanced during the 40-minute visit, wore masks, didn’t hug and had Carol sit by the windows, which they opened as an added precaution. But one day later, on Nov. 21, the sister started showing COVID-19 symptoms. Soon after, Joseph and Carol had them too.
“We didn’t embrace, we had masks on — we thought we did everything right,” Joseph says. “But within three weeks, both of our parents were gone.”
Carol quickly developed severe COVID-19 illness was admitted to the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. She improved at first and went home that week, but after two days she was back at the hospital and put on a ventilator. Her 80-year-old husband Mike, who did not even visit with their kids, also contracted COVID-19 and went to the hospital about two weeks after Carol, where he was put on a ventilator.
One day after Mike went on the ventilator, Carol died of COVID-19. Mike, her husband of nearly six decades, died nine days later, on Dec. 23.
“My parents were a couple who had really no wealth in the traditional sense, but had an abundance of love that they gave everybody,” Joseph says. “We were such a close family and we took this so seriously, because the people are what we have in life. It’s just so tragic that in a matter of three weeks, our entire family has been just devastated by these two huge losses in our lives.”
Now, Joseph is emphasizing that any visits, no matter how short or seemingly safe, are a risk.
“Had I made that sacrifice and, you know, didn’t spend, you know, 30 to 40 minutes with my mom, they would still be here,” he told WLS-TV.
He also wants people to understand that anyone can be seriously impacted by this virus.
“When I scroll through social media and I see people having house parties and making plans for New Year’s Eve, it’s just so baffling to me that they think they’re immune,” Joseph tells PEOPLE. “I couldn’t get out of bed for ten days and I am an extremely healthy, active human being. This virus just doesn’t discriminate at all, and can really attack in vicious ways.”
And, he adds, people should realize that “if you do have a family member who ends up in the hospital, you can’t see them, you can’t be by their side. We did not get to say goodbye to either of our parents.”
It’s easy to read these stories and think that this is something that happens to ‘other’ families and that it’ll never happen to you — but ask yourself, is losing your loved ones worth the risk? Stay home.