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Health officials mark one year since COVID-19 arrived in Utah



SALT LAKE CITY – It has been more than a year since Utahns learned they were not immune from a global pandemic. COVID-19 has sickened tens of thousands of people across the state, causing more than 1,900 deaths since it was spotted in the state last March.  Some people who were infected with the virus early say they’re still surprised at all the damage it caused.

Mark Jorgensen remembers coming home from his Asian cruise, after his wife, Jerri, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Japan.  He was quarantined for a short time in California, spent a few days at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, then finished his quarantine at home.  He’s surprised the pandemic has lasted this long.  He believed it wouldn’t be more serious than the “bird flu.”
He said, “I thought it would blow over. I think, over the last decade or even longer, we have a ‘killer’ disease of the year.  Every year there was something that was going to wipe everybody out.”

Doctors soon noticed that travelers weren’t the only ones getting sick, and that “community spread” had become a reality.  On March 6, then-Gov. Gary Herbert issued a state of emergency.  During a roundtable discussion at KSL, State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn said the virus broke out of the containment phase.

Dunn said, “It’s here. We have to work toward mitigation and slowing the spread of the disease.”

At that time, there was a lot of bad information about what to do.  Some people believed rinsing your nose with saline would kill the virus.  Others thought pneumonia vaccines would protect people from COVID-19.

Utah Department of Emergency Management Spokesman Joe Dougherty said, “We have seen a number of people running out and stocking up on things that really don’t help you weather the storm of a disease outbreak, like toilet paper.”

The spread kept getting worse.  On March 11, Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, forcing their game with the Oklahoma City Thunder to be canceled.  The NBA canceled the rest of the season, and other leagues followed.  Two days later, Herbert announced schools would go through a “soft closure.”  That closure was supposed to last two weeks, but it extended until the end of the year.

Theaters closed on March 18, the same day then-Rep. Ben McAdams announced he had COVID-19.

McAdams said, “I don’t know where I got it from.  I think that it highlights how important it is.  Even though I was following all of the recommendations, I was still exposed to it.”

On March 22, Utah recorded its first COVID-19 death.  A Davis County man over the age of 60 with underlying health problems died.  That man would be the first more than 1,900.

Utah saw cases plateau in early May. But the daily number of cases started spiking in September, leading to thousands of new cases every day through November and December.

On Dec 15, a light at the end of the tunnel.  Health workers from Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health were able to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  It happened thanks to “Operation Warp Speed” announced by President Donald Trump, which was designed to create a vaccine quicker than any other vaccine had been created before.

Utah’s first confirmed case, Mark Jorgensen, said he hasn’t received his vaccine, but he hasn’t pushed for it.  Generally, he says he feels great, although he has some residual effects from COVID-19.

“The nerves from my eye to my brain are kind of pinched,” he said.  “They don’t have free space, like they normally should. I seem to have more memory fog than I ever have.”

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