COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4) – In Leslie Sanchez’s home things are pretty neat and clean, especially this month. First she sanitized with bleach and water all over.

“I did a complete clean, I had everybody strip their beds and put them in black bags and I washed them all. Then I went with Lysol and sanitized every single surface in the house. And I did that three times a day.”

That level of disinfection came after her 18-year-old son was diagnosed with COVID.

“I immediately instituted a mask and glove wearing protocol.”

He works at a homeless shelter, as does her husband. Both of them came down with the virus. But that was just the start. Then, her 38-year-old son and her 11-year-old son tested positive too. Four people in one house positive with COVID-19. She tried everything she could think of.

“I cut onions and placed them all over the house to absorb sickness.”

Her 11-year-old son is still under quarantine orders until Nov. 2 and they’re all observing it together. Thankfully, no one got seriously ill, in spite of the fact that she has a 65-year-old father living in the home and five of the seven living there have problems like asthma. It’s an example of spread that’s hard to contain and hard to figure.

“We’re getting the idea that COVID probably transmits less linearly than influenza and more in clusters,” said Dr. John Douglas, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department.

With contact tracing, they’re trying to figure out where the virus is being spread. Places where people gather are turning out to be the most common.

“The most common answer we continue to hear are personal gatherings,” said Douglas. “Birthday party, an anniversary party, went out to dinner with some pals. So people getting together in personal space.”

They’re also noticing that places where people let their guard down are often spots for sharing the virus.

“I do have to be aware that things change over time. And it may well be that in settings where we’re most relaxed — I’m at your house for dinner, the kids at home on remote learning — rather than in classroom with a teacher, we may actually get more transmission in those sorts of settings,” he explained, while saying that in public places we might be more conscious of a cough or a sneeze. “I’m more careful on an airplane that I am at your house, the kid is more careful at school than he is when he’s hanging out in the basement doing remote learning with three pals.”

Douglas also noted that while young children don’t seem to be spreading the virus much, one rising theory is that they don’t seem to push it out as far.

“We think that kids actually have a whole lot of virus, but they don’t very forcefully expel it, which is probably why they’re not actually involved in transmission.”

The data they’re gathering to figure out where transmission is limited. Contact tracing occurs during generally brief conversations and there’s only so much they can gather. Many people have been in more than one place where transmission may have occurred, so it may not just be a gathering.

“We just know that it’s the most common space cited. Now the same people that went to a birthday party also say I went to my church, or I went and ate out in a restaurant. And so for some people we’ll get multiple cites of community exposure cited and of course we don’t have any definitive way of saying it was the church versus the restaurant or vice versa.”

At the homeless shelter where Leslie Sanchez figures her 18 year old picked up the virus, he and her husband are both cautious as they work.

“My guys wear PPE. And they are trained on protocol to wash and what not, but you know it’s such a closed space, with that many people. … There’s a lot of people in the homeless shelter who are not wanting to cooperate and wear a mask. Or those that are having mental illness and are kind of in other people’s face. … So my guys are exposed to bodily fluids, urine, that sort of thing, daily. But they’re geared up as they can be,” she said.

But many of those at the shelter may be less capable of making the proper decision than the wider public.

“I still feel people are being very careless. You have people who think this is not real. They go out in public and have no regard for themselves, let alone anyone else. Not everyone shares our risk assessment and unfortunately we only have control over our own.”

She has run a tight ship at home, with all wearing masks and no one has gotten severely ill. Her 11 year old who has been asymptomatic has the final quarantine expiration date. They’re all quarantining together until that day — Nov. 2 — comes along. And there’s still plenty of the chicken soup with heavy onion and garlic that she thinks is helping.

“They can’t smell it anyway,” she said.

Alan Gionet

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