SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson didn’t see a pandemic coming for her second year in office.
Wilson is quick to note that the experiences she faced this year aren’t unique to her, though she led Utah’s largest and hardest-hit county as COVID-19 ripped through the state, shutting down schools, throwing thousands out of work, separating families for the holidays and causing economic turmoil.
“Most of us have a work life and a private life. And I think COVID has just clobbered us on both fronts. Whether it’s the mayor of Salt Lake County’s extra workload and stress, or a store owner trying to keep the store running and not shutting down, and trying to keep employees hired and happy, but also at the same time managing small kids and trying to keep their mental health in line,” Wilson said.
“My journey is my journey, and COVID has impacted my personal life in many ways this year, as it has my professional life,” she said during an interview with the Deseret News reflecting on 2020.
The pandemic has taught her “a lot about the human condition.”
“We are very capable of responding to crisis as humans. We adapt, we support. I think we’ve found most of us have been able to dig deep and address this challenge. I also continue to be heartbroken every day I read reports and see fatalities and hear stories of suffering. I’m inspired this year by the goodness of people in the community,” Wilson said.
Personal toll of the pandemic
The pandemic came into sharp focus for the mayor recently as her father, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, experienced an undisclosed health emergency that sent him to the hospital — something Wilson noted most residents with older relatives have feared during this time.
“My father’s one of the most dedicated fitness and good-eating people I know. I mean, he’s just the picture of health. And anybody who followed my dad’s time in office in the ’70s and ’80s knows that he was a pretty strong marathon runner,” Wilson said.
Ted Wilson went to a Salt Lake County hospital for care but there were “no rooms at the inn.” His wife faced a “scary” goodbye with him as he was taken by ambulance to Utah County, Jenny Wilson said.
He was later able to return to Salt Lake County for care, and Wilson said he is expected to recover.
The experience gave Jenny Wilson a personal view of front-line health care workers as she saw “their dedication firsthand.”
“My dad’s journey gave me an even more in-depth in the weeds experience. I sat in ER rooms that were being managed differently. I know how a hospital splits COVID from non-COVID. I heard people coming in the door with need,” she said.
Like many, the county mayor and her family also had to say a difficult goodbye this year.
Over the summer, Wilson lost her mother-in-law to health issues unrelated to COVID-19, she said, and her children were unable to say goodbye to her in person.
Those personal experiences are part of what prompted county officials to launch a campaign sharing the real stories of coronavirus, Wilson said.
“I’ve heard from young people that this is no worse than a cold. That’s not true for everyone. If you’re one of the lucky people, you’re going to get through it without taste and smell. If you’re not one of the lucky ones, you’re not going to make it, or a family member is not going to make it,” she said.