By Suzanne Le Mignot

CHICAGO (CBS) — A south suburban nurse said she contracted COVID-19 at work, then five of her family members got the virus.

Her husband nearly died from the illness. She said managers on her floor told her and other staff not to wear a mask while at work.

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CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot has more on the nurse’s story.

She said the reason managers gave for staff not to wear masks was it would make patients uncomfortable amid the pandemic.  She believes that move led her to contract the virus and nearly to cost her soulmate his life.

Karen Duenas is a nurse in the oncology and hospice unit at Advocate Aurora South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest.

On March 24, she tested positive for COVID-19. She believes she got the illness from work.  Duenas said in February, hospital staff were told by management to wear masks if they had a cough or cold.

In March, for a short time, that changed.

“Because the hospital and our management had told us that they did not want us wearing masks at this time because it was making patients feel uncomfortable,” Duenas said. “I felt it was incorrect. It goes against everything, as a nurse, that I’m taught.”

After her diagnosis, her two adult children and her husband Hector were also diagnosed with COVID-19.

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Hector and Karen have been together since she was 15. They’ve been married for 24 years.

“As a nurse, I’m bringing this home. I felt at one point that I was murdering my husband because of what I brought to my family. It is breaking my heart every day,” she said.

Hector has been on a ventilator for 35 out of the 84 days he’s been in the hospital.  He’s expected to leave Advocate Christ Medical Center on June 27.

“We already have family members that are planning to line up at the hospital to make a little parade to drive him home,” Duenas said.

As she awaits her husband’s return home, Duenas still questions why during the pandemic she was told by managers not to wear a mask at work.

“I signed up to be a nurse to save people. I didn’t sign up to put my family’s life in danger,” she said.

Advocate Aurora South Suburban Hospital told CBS 2 that throughout the pandemic they closely followed CDC guidelines and among those including providing team members with appropriate PPE.

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When asked directly about whether management told staff to not wear masks for a period of time during March, CBS 2 did not get a response.

Suzanne Le Mignot