“I wish I would have taken things like the masks and the precautions more seriously,” Nibley Mayor Shaun Dustin said days after finding out he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I think I just sort of stopped taking it super seriously,” he added. “And I wish I hadn’t.”
Dustin’s daughter-in-law, a nurse in Provo, tested positive for COVID-19, but she wasn’t told she’d been exposed until after visiting the mayor and his family for the Fourth of July.
Now, Dustin and two of his three sons who live at home have come down with the virus and the household is in quarantine. He said so far, symptoms have been mild.
“It’s made me lethargic, with a mild cough, a little bit of a fever, but not too bad,” Dustin said. “I haven’t lost my sense of taste, but I can’t smell certain things, like I can’t smell bleach.”
He said he didn’t feel the need to be proactive against the coronavirus because of how dramatized the majority of information seemed.
“And it’s hard to internalize that, you know, like it either doesn’t do anything to you or it kills you, and that’s not really useful information,” he said. “Because if it doesn’t do anything to you or it kills you, then I guess, subconsciously, I was just thinking, ‘Well, there’s not much I can do about it.’”
Dustin was not alone in that belief and many have thought the reaction to the virus was blown out of proportion. But according to Dr. Ed Redd, an internal medicine physician in Logan, the rumor that the coronavirus is no more deadly than the common cold or flu misrepresents the data.
In Utah, 5% of people aged 25-44 end up hospitalized, and that jumps to 12% for those 45-64. Redd said while many of those hospitalizations recover, the older a patient is the higher the risk of death.
That doesn’t mean young people are off the hook, Redd said, considering the 25-44 demographic is also the range with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
“One out of 20 individuals who gets sick in that age category ends up being hospitalized,” he said. “Well, that’s not insignificant … And so even though you’re younger, you still should be careful.”
Redd added that the idea of slowing the spread is to help keep hospitals able to accept patients, because if every ICU bed is taken, patients — even those who don’t have COVID-19 — will be turned away from life-saving procedures.
So far, Utah’s hospitals have not been close to capacity, and Dustin said Utah’s relatively low number of cases also helped lull him into a false sense of security. But Redd said the low number of cases just means Utah has farther to go until herd immunity is reached. Experts have also cautioned that herd immunity depends on the strength and duration of humans’ antibody response to the virus, which scientists are still studying.
In order to prevent massive casualties as seen in New York, Redd said there needs to be continued emphasis on precautions such as physical distancing, wearing a mask and frequent hand-washing. This will not only prevent contracting the virus, but also prevent asymptomatic individuals from spreading the virus.
“We need to remember that we’re trying to protect each other, not just ourselves,” he said. “It’s not just about individuals. It’s about everybody in our community, because there’s a lot of people in our community who have real high vulnerability to this disease, and they’re doing the best they can, I think most of them, to not get infected.”
Of the more than 28,000 COVID-19 cases in Utah, 1,825 have been in the Bear River Health district. As of Friday, there were 522 estimated active cases of COVID-19 in Cache County, and five required hospitalization, leaving just about nine beds open in the ICU.