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George W. Hewitt had been hospitalized for days with COVID-19. When he was not improving but declined being put on a ventilator, his wife said, doctors saw no more reason to keep him at Dixie Regional Medical Center.
“They said, ‘Your best chance of survival is going to be at home,’” Thayes Ann Hewitt recalled in a phone interview. “‘There’s nothing you can’t do at home that we can do here.‘”
George Hewitt went home July 2 to a hospital-style bed. Within two hours, his wife said, she could see the octogenarian wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Hospice staff arrived that evening; he died at home July 6.
Among the seven new coronavirus deaths reported in the state Wednesday, three were Utahns who also were not in hospitals or care facilities when they died. This group is a small minority of 18 people among the 233 Utahns who have died from the virus.
The three Utahns who died outside hospitals or care centers were:
• A Salt Lake County man, between ages 65 and 84.
• A Utah County woman also between 65 and 84.
• A Weber County man between 45 and 64.
A San Juan County woman over age 85 died in a long-term care facility, and the remaining three died in hospitals:
• Two men, both between 65 and 84, from Davis and Weber counties.
• A Salt Lake County man between 45 and 64.
With another 413 Utahns reported Wednesday as having tested positive for COVID-19, the rolling seven-day average for cases dropped Wednesday to 589 per day. That average — the metric public-health professionals use to monitor trends in the disease’s spread — peaked at more than 651 per day on Monday.
The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) reported that 204 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Twenty-five of them entered hospitals Tuesday; hospitalization figures lag behind case counts by a day.
One of the latest three people who died of COVID-19 outside a health facility was receiving hospice care, said Tom Hudachko, a UDOH spokesman. Another had been diagnosed before he or she died. But the third was diagnosed after death, as part of an investigation by the state medical examiner’s office, he said.
Of the 15 previous such deaths tallied since the beginning of Utah’s outbreak, all were either receiving hospice care or knew they had tested positive, Hudachko said, referring to research by the medical examiner’s office.
Four occurred in March; five in April; four in June; and two were earlier in July.
Five of those 15 people were receiving hospice care. The remaining 10 had tested positive at some point and died at home, Hudachko said.
George Hewitt, 82, was a business teacher and debate and drama coach in the Granite School District before retiring with his wife to Diamond Valley, north of St. George, she said.
Thayes Hewitt said she began to show symptoms of COVID-19 on June 11. He showed symptoms the next day.
“I have never been so sick in my life — ever,” Thayes Hewitt said. “I went through about 10 days, 12 days of absolute torture.”
Friends and neighbors were supportive of the couple as they weathered the virus, Thayes Hewitt said. Members of their local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serenaded them while keeping a safe distance outside their home one night.
While Thayes Hewitt improved at home, George Hewitt was admitted June 20 to Dixie Regional Medical Center.
Doctors treated him with blood plasma from previous coronavirus patients as well as steroids and other drugs, but he continued to decline, Thayes Hewitt said. As they feared he was near death, hospital staff allowed his wife to sit with him in the hospital.
He improved slightly, Thayes Hewitt said, then made no more improvements. And he did not want to be put on a ventilator, or for doctors to pursue more aggressive treatments that would require his wife to leave the hospital again, Thayes Hewitt said. So they decided to go home.
Hewitt’s children and grandchildren got to see him — from a distance — in his final days.
In Salt Lake County, Paul Mokofisi, 41, did not want to go to a hospital once he fell ill.
Mokofisi helped his family manage a food truck — Jamaica’s Kitchen. But his day job was as a caregiver at group homes for the disabled, said his sister, Teresa Thompson.
As the pandemic took hold, “he stopped going to work,” Thompson said. “He knew that with his underlying issues and his weight that he probably wouldn’t make it” if he contracted COVID-19.
But Mokofisi eventually returned to the group homes. Thompson believes it was in one of those homes that her brother contracted the coronavirus.
Mokofisi lived in West Jordan in the same house where he and his siblings grew up. The virus spread to others living in the house, including a pregnant sister, Thompson said.
Mokofisi already used a CPAP machine for sleep apnea and began using it to help him breathe as he struggled with COVID-19, Thompson said. He did not want to go to a hospital, she said.
“He was trying to be positive about the whole thing,” Thompson said. “And I think he, honestly, was scared to go into the hospital.”
In his second week of symptoms, Mokofisi looked like he was getting better. His fever came down and his breathing improved. Thompson said he decided to sleep without using the CPAP, just to see if he could.
The next morning, June 28, the sister he lived with found Mokofisi dead in his bedroom, Thompson said. He would have turned 42 in five days.
“He probably was struggling but didn’t want to say it,” Thompson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those with COVID-19 should stay in touch with their doctor, seek medical care for trouble breathing or persistent chest pain, and if their face or lips turn blue.
There have been 1,913 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah since the first cases were reported in March.
Another 7,559 tests for COVID-19 were performed in a day, according to Wednesday’s report, bringing the total number of tests to 432,080. The rolling seven-day average for the percentage of positive lab tests is 10.13%.
Wednesday’s new cases bring the state’s total of cases, since the pandemic began, to 30,891. Of those, the state considers 18,593 people to be “recovered” — defined by public health officials as staying alive three weeks after being diagnosed.
The seven fatalities reported Wednesday bring the seven-day total of Utah deaths to 32, with 10 of them reported Tuesday.
In a statement, UDOH officials pointed out that the deaths the agency reports each day have not happened within the past 24 hours. Usually, there is a lag time of between two and seven days when the state reports someone’s death — sometimes longer, if a Utahn dies out of state.
The agency does not list death dates in its report, citing privacy reasons. “It would be too easy to potentially identify an individual,” UDOH said, if one were given a person’s county of residence, general age, gender and date of death.