Another Utahn dies of COVID-19 as Davis Hospital says its first patient with the virus is now recovering at home

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Davis Hospital and Medical Center, Dec. 27, 2019.

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Another Utahn has died from the coronavirus, the Utah Department of Health announced on Saturday.

The fatality brings the state’s death toll to 18, after four deaths were added to the count on Friday. The patient was a Wasatch County man older than 60 who had been fighting the virus at a Salt Lake City hospital for nine days, a spokesman for that county’s health department said. The man also had underlying health conditions.

“Our community here in Wasatch County is like family and we are very saddened to lose one of our residents,” Wasatch County Health Director Randall Probst said in a statement late Friday offering condolences.

The state Health Department was reporting 2,206 confirmed cases statewide as of Saturday, roughly a 5% increase from the day before. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 stood at 190, up by seven cases since Friday.

News of the Wasatch County’s man’s death came as Davis Hospital in Layton reported the first COVID-19-infected patient treated there is now recovering at home and “getting better every day.”

The 50-year-old woman, who The Salt Lake Tribune has agreed not to name to protect her medical privacy, said she thought she had nothing more than a bad case of the flu in early March. She battled the illness for about two weeks on her own before her shortness of breath, cough and extreme fatigue significantly worsened.

It just didn’t get any better and just continued to progress, you know, with body aches and no appetite,” the woman said from her Layton-area home, where she is now recuperating under the care of her husband.

“I just decided I wasn’t getting better on my own, but I never in a million years thought I had the virus whatsoever,” she said.

The woman never exhibited a fever but was hospitalized for pneumonia and doctors deemed her travel history reason enough to test for COVID-19, the hospital said.

A human-resources executive, the woman said she travels regularly in the southern U.S. for her job. She said she’d grown more cautious on flights and in airports, practicing social distancing, washing her hands frequently and being wary of commonly touched surfaces.

"I was very diligent about using appropriate precautions — and I still got it,” she said.

During four days of intense treatment at Davis Hospital, she was kept in a negative air-flow room and limited to communicating with friends and loved ones via her smart phone. Her only direct human contact was with hospital workers in protective gear.

“It was really kind of surreal. You know, you’re sitting in a room by yourself. You’ve got television and your phone, basically,” she said. “You’re pretty much out there on your own and I can’t imagine being in there long term, you know, like some people are.”

After IV treatments and extensive coaching on self-care and quarantine procedures from hospital staff, the woman said she was sent home for two weeks of full isolation. Her first craving upon leaving the hospital, she said, was for strawberry ice cream.

“We don’t have any,” her husband told her. “Well, you’re going to have to go to the store and get some,” she replied. “It was one of those, ‘just gotta have it’ things.”

She was initially confined to her bedroom, taking her own temperature and reporting it daily when a nurse would call to check in. That was followed by less strict period of self-quarantining, where she could move around inside the house and interact with her husband, who has shown no signs of the disease.

The woman called the process of self-quarantining “challenging but necessary to protect others.”

On Monday, she got a clean bill of health after a visit to her physician, she said in a statement from the hospital.

“It’s been a slow recovery process, but I’m getting there,” the woman said, estimating that she’s at about 75% of her usual self. “I’m looking forward to putting this all behind and getting used to a new normal.”

One of her main comforts now, she told The Tribune, is venturing outside. “It just feels like fresh air and sunshine go a long way.”

Her cough persisted Saturday as she spoke and she said her energy is still depleted. I just try and do one thing at a time, you know, maybe load the dishwasher, then take a little while and then maybe later I’ll change a load of laundry or something,” the woman said.

“I don’t overdo it,” she said, “because I don’t want to have a setback.”

But the woman has also been heartened, she said, by an outpouring from friends, neighbors and especially her employer, who she described as “fantastic.” Her circle is delivering meals and much-needed supplies to her door or through the mail and helping with a host of errands.

"That has just been phenomenal, said the woman, who added she was able to work from home a few days last week and hopes to work more starting Monday.

She called COVID-19 “the illness of a lifetime.”

“This will change me forever,” the woman said. “I think it’s going to take a long time for me to get comfortable again with going out in public, traveling or gathering with a large group of friends.”

She said she wanted to share her story as a reminder to others to follow social distancing guidelines.

“I want to emphasize the importance of staying in and staying safe,” she said. “Please comply with all precautions so you don’t give the illness to anyone else who may not be able to recover.”

One of the nurse practitioners who helped in the woman’s hospital treatment also had a message for the public, she said in a statement.

“I’m not afraid to care for my patients, but I am very careful,” said the nurse, who’s name was not released by the hospital. “Knowledge gives me comfort and confidence in treating people. It’s reassuring to see how proper treatment of the virus leads to a livable outcome.”