Pandemic Memories: A family’s recollection of its COVID-19 ordeal

Leeroy Mutunga and his mother, Elizabeth Mutunga. When the parents were battling covid-19, his son Mutunga took care of the family. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Leeroy Mutunga and his mother, Elizabeth Mutunga. PHOTO/Courtesy.
  • Both parents were suffering from covid-19 in 2020.
  • The family thanks Ministry of Health for the regular guidelines on the virus containment.
  • Nairobi county is conducting a covid-19 vaccination drive in schools.
  • Attaining herd immunity termed essential to combat the disease fully.

Leeroy Mutunga was advised to get tested for COVID-19 after his mother tested positive in November 2020. That would tell whether he had the virus. 

Mutunga, a form four candidate at the time, was sitting for his mock exam ahead of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations. 

“Results came back, and surprisingly, both my parents had it. My sister and I did not have COVID-19,” he says. 

He recalls noticing tears running down his father’s face a day after they received the results. COVID-19’s reality had just dawned on him. 

His mother was in the hospital while his father sat on the veranda. As he ran upstairs to get his facemasks before getting closer to his father, he began to wonder what had happened. 

“When I reached there, dad told me mum was not doing very well then. She was in the Intensive Care Unit,” he recalls. He wanted both his parents alive during his KCSE examinations.

In the days that followed, the devastated Mutunga spent a lot of time on social media seeking information from scientists. 

He says that the complicated terminologies made it difficult to understand most things, but at least he got to figure out what his mother was going through.

Caring for the family

Mutunga’s mother was in the ICU, and his father was in the home isolation room. The 17-year-old, at the time, then took over as their primary caregiver. He had to follow all the COVID-19 protocols issued by health experts to avoid becoming infected with the virus.

“Mum was suddenly absent from the house. I’d wake up and start asking myself where the tea is, where the bread is, and that time dad couldn’t come and prepare the breakfast because he was self-isolating in his room,” he says of his predicament.

He began to receive assistance from family, friends, and relatives, who would cook and deliver food to them. However, he admits that the warmth of the house was missing due to his parents’ absence, particularly in the sitting room. 

Leeroy Mutunga. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Leeroy Mutunga. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Mutunga believes the situation must have been difficult for his father, who had been alone upstairs for nearly five weeks.

“He would call and ask for my help with the tablets. (Consider sanitizing everything as a result.) It was difficult to bring him food, knock on the door, and leave without even seeing him. He’d call me after finishing eating and sanitize his plates before handing them to me,” he told Scholar Media Africa in a recent interview.

Ravages of COVID-19

When Mutunga and his younger sister went to the hospital to see their mother, he notes he couldn’t recognize her. She was then breathing with the assistance of an oxygen cylinder. 

He couldn’t believe that COVID-19 had reduced his mother to such a difficult situation. He says that even his younger sister was taken aback by the state.

“You know how we take air for granted, and the air is a rare commodity because if your lungs quit working, the hospital oxygen is so expensive,” he shares.

With mounting medical bills and the little the doctors could do, his mother was discharged but required to use a concentrator and an extra oxygen cylinder at home to help her breathe. 

Mutunga says she arrived home in an ambulance and that he welcomed her as a heroine.

“I was so happy to see her, even though she wasn’t the mum I knew before, but at least now we could feel the warmth in the sitting room,” he says of his excitement.

He appreciates the government-imposed travel ban around the Christmas season the same year. He says that, as much as it may appear selfish, the protocol helped him and many other families who had COVID-19 patients in isolations and hospitals feel like they were not alone in missing out on the holiday season.

First to be vaccinated

When the Ministry of Health originally introduced the vaccines to the nation, Mutunga’s family was among the first Nairobi residents to be vaccinated. He has also received his second and first booster of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

“The fact that we were the first to receive the vaccine demonstrates how I feel about the role of vaccines. I remember being vaccinated two days before writing my English paper. Despite the side effects, I went and sat my KCSE examinations,” he says, advising young people to get the vaccine. 

Mutunga passed his exams in early 2021 and enrolled in a one-year course at the International Foundation Year (IFY). He graduated last year in June and is currently in Australia at the University of New South Wales, pursuing a four-year Bachelor of Commerce.

University Foundation College states, “Students who enroll on the IFY qualification can progress to the first year of a bachelor’s degree in the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the USA.”

His father, a businessman, inspired him to study business. 

His other motivation is that he wishes to be financially literate.

Mutunga, who enjoys football and business, is relieved that his parents survived the pandemic. Seeing them today makes him very happy.

Fruits of good parenting

His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mutunga, describe him as an exceptional young man whose perseverance when they both tested positive for COVID-19 shows the good parenting values they instilled in him.

“Until today, our son Mutunga leaves his mark by how he does his things. He is firm and a believer in giving his best so as to get excellent results,” his mum, Elizabeth Mutunga, told Scholar Media.

Even though the government and Ministry of Health have minimized measures on COVID-19, the country is still going on with community strategies. 

COVID-19 vaccination drive

This is especially targeting COVID-19 vaccinations. Nairobi county Health Promotion Officer, Lillyan Mutua, told Scholar Media that schools are part of the county’s target places.

“We are privileged that the Pfizer vaccine has been brought back because towards the end of last year we had some shortage of the same Pfizer vaccine but right now it is available. There is high acceptance from the parents and even some of the schools accepting that their students get vaccinated while at school,” she says. 

Lillyan Mutua, Nairobi county Health Promotion Officer. PHOTO/Tebby Otieno, Scholar Media Africa.

World Health Organization and Ministry of Health recommend Pfizer vaccine only be administered to people under 18. 

This is because it is the only vaccine that was tested among that cohort during the COVID-19 vaccine research. 

With the availability of the vaccine in the country, Ms. Mutua is happy with the cooperation Nairobi county has with various stakeholders. She says through the community strategy, Nairobi county’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage has now reached 56.1 percent. 

This means that at least five in every ten residents of Nairobi have received their second dose.

How they do it

“We normally share letters of notice to let the parents know that we shall be doing an exercise in a certain school to allow their children to get vaccinated. We also talk to parents and disseminate information on the benefits and importance of the children getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” she explains.

While reinfection with COVID-19 after infection occurs, Mrs. Mutua says that contact tracing has shown that the majority of close people who test positive, especially those who are vaccinated, do not exhibit the same symptoms.

Speaking during a cross border café a week ago, the Director, KAVI Institute of Clinical Research, University of Nairobi, Prof. Walter Jaoko, said that vaccines’ primary aim is to protect against severe disease and not against infection.

“People up to date with their vaccination can still become infected. Vaccine hesitancy is preventing some regions from achieving high vaccination rates. Uneven access to vaccines was an issue but not anymore,” said Prof. Jaoko during the virtual science café.

Prof. Walter Jaoko during a previous science cafe. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Prof. Walter Jaoko, Director, KAVI Institute of Clinical Research, University of Nairobi, during a previous science café. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The forum was organized by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture and attended by journalists from different countries in Africa.

Achieving herd immunity

Prof. Jaoko also noted that indirect protection from an infectious disease is obtained when a population becomes immune to the agent causing infection. He said that as more people gain immunity, the number of infected people diminishes while at the same time, the source and fertile ground for infection become less. 

He said this combination leads to less infection and minimal chances of it being transmitted even to those without immunity to disease-causing agents due to herd immunity.

Herd immunity is the protection from becoming infected with a particular infectious disease as a result of the people around you (the herd) not being prone to the infection. 

Some scientists say that herd immunity equals to population, meaning that it is an immunity that one acquires in relation to other people.

“Herd immunity against COVID-19 disease should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination and not by exposure to the virus. Threshold needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity is not known,” said Prof. Jaoko.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: Rethinking Kenya’s state of mental health amidst Covid-19

According to Prof. Jaoko, Delta and Omicron variants were more infectious and it is estimated that if 75-80 percent of people are vaccinated, then herd immunity is achieved. 

According to Our World in Data, as of February 19, 2023, only 26.5% of Kenyans had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

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Ms. Otieno is an award-winning journalist and features writer with interests in Health, Education and Environment.


  1. Very well articulated. This article comes at a time when we have really relegated our spirited fight against COVID-19. Such an apt reminder on the pangs of COVID-19. You should see how Kenyans clamp on each other in public places with zero adherence to the safety protocols against COVID-19. Well written-out Tebby. You’re a wordsmith i must admit.


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