What one Utah doctor is doing to protect her family from the coronavirus

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Denitza Blagev at her home in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 9, 2020.

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Stay 6 feet apart. Wash hands frequently. Stay home as much as possible. Wear protective gear when going out. Self-quarantine if you present symptoms of the coronavirus.

Those are the biggest, most common coronavirus precautions shared around the nation, with some states or counties adding protective measures, but some people have to do a lot more than that.

For Denitza Blagev, there are a lot more steps she includes in her routine when coming home from work, particularly. She has to.

Blagev works at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray as a pulmonary and critical care physician, with some additional administrative and research roles. But during this pandemic, she’s mostly been working in critical care in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit and the other respiratory ICU for suspected or possible COVID-19 cases.

The 42-year-old physician also keeps her clinic hours, which are done through virtual appointments. On top of her usual shifts at the hospital, she comes in a few times a week for overnight shifts in the ICU.

Then she goes home to her husband and three kids.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Denitza Blagev with her family in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 9, 2020. From left are Sam Blagev Schlegel, Amnon Schlegel, Paul Blagev Schlegel, Denitza Blagev, and Matthew Blagev Schlegel.

As a pulmonary specialist researcher, Blagev started keeping tabs on the coronavirus pretty early on, since it first emerged in China. But when she saw what happened in Italy, that’s when she started getting really worried.

So, she and her husband, Amnon Schlegel, who is also a physician and works at the University of Utah as an endocrinologist, started planning what they should do. For a while, Blagev was even toying with the idea of possibly staying at a hotel.

“As things started unfolding, it just became clear — it’s not going to be a week or two,” Blagev said. “I can be away from my kids for two weeks, four weeks, but I wasn’t willing to do that for six months at a time when it’s terrifying.”

That's where a new plan took form.

Blagev no longer wears jewelry, so it's easier to clean up and wash hands, and switched over from contacts to glasses because she felt that added a layer of droplet protection.

When it’s time to go to work, Blagev brings a change of clothes. After she arrives at Intermountain Medical Center, she changes into her scrubs for the COVID-19 unit. When she’s done there, Blagev changes out of those scrubs and gets into her white coat. When she’s finished for the day, Blagev changes into fresh clothes, washes her hands, wipes down anything she has on her that has been with her during the day (like glasses and an ID card) and leaves her work clogs at the hospital and puts on a second pair of shoes that she wears only to and from her car, which gets left in the garage when she arrives home.

At home, Blagev puts all of those dirty clothes from work, plus what she wore in the car, into the laundry and goes straight into the shower (Blagev showers in the guest room shower).

After her shower, she does the laundry. And for now, at least, Blagev still shares the bedroom with her husband.

“If one of us had a fever or became symptomatic, that would probably be when we say one of us is in the guest room and not coming out,” Blagev said. “But for now, we have family dinners together [and] I hug and kiss my children.”

(Courtesy of Denitza Blagev) This sign is posted inside of the Blagev Sclegel garage at the entrance to the house to remind Denitza Blagev of the precautions she must take when coming home from work.

There were a few hiccups in the beginning, when Blagev and her husband started making changes at home. She found that she had to make it clear to her 9-year-old and 11-year-old twin boys that the garage was off-limits for them.

“In the beginning, I was just leaving my shoes in the garage — thankfully they were not the clogs I wear at work … and then I saw one of my kids wearing it around the yard,” Blagev said. “I was like, OK, we’re going to have to totally separate that area so it doesn’t look like a random pair of shoes that the kids just slip on because they’re too lazy to put on their shoes. So, I’ve separated that area more clearly so they’re not just randomly leaving stuff nearby. … They would not need to go into that area to get something that they would use.”

For now, the added precautions are working for the Blagev/Schlegel household.

The pulmonologist recommends those who go out for essential work or shopping also take off their clothes and wash right after getting home and immediately shower, especially for anyone working in a hospital setting.

Also, people should be aware to wipe down phones, keys, IDs and glasses, and make sure to clean those areas where one changes or leaves any contaminated clothes or items.

But any other needed changes should be made according to what works best for the entire household.

“One overarching theme is it’s a marathon,” Blagev said. “So, whatever they’re thinking of doing, to just recognize we’re going to be doing it for weeks and just think for what makes sense weeks to months. Not thinking that you can live in your car for a week and then it’ll be over.”