Robert Gehrke: We’re all losing our minds, but now is not a time to lose our focus

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

I’m trying not to get too judgy when I see videos of Utah County dance parties and Salt Lake City nightclubs.

But, man, it’s hard.

I get that we’re exhausted after six months of coping with the coronavirus in our midst. Humans are not built to live like this — sheltered and isolated and in fear.

And I will admit that my own risk tolerance has eased. I’ve eaten at a restaurant and even been to a couple bars (preferably outdoors), something I never would have done a month or two months ago. And, if I’m being honest, it probably isn’t smart or safe.

We need to interact with friends and blow off a little steam. We all want a little more normal in our lives.

But now is not normal.

Now we are averaging nearly a thousand new COVID-19 cases every day in the state, which was, as of Friday, the fourth-worst hot spot in the United States, which has the worst coronavirus rates on the planet.

Especially now, our risky decisions can have serious consequences.

Back in August I tweeted a video of the Salt Lake City dance club Echo, which was packed with young people not wearing masks. Someone notified the county health department, which was told the video was before COVID (even though the club’s own social media accounts had a similar image).

About two weeks ago I mentioned that the health department had followed up and on Sept. 4 issued a warning letter to Echo and another club, Ibiza, to clean up their acts or they would be closed down.

This screen capture of a video taken at Echo dance club in Salt Lake City on Sept. 11 shows the crowded bar and no masks, in violation of county COVID-19 guidelines. The county ordered the bar to close on Sept. 19.

A week later, a young woman posted a video of Echo, once again packed, once again nobody wearing masks, and once again flagrantly violating the health department guidelines. “I’m going to get COVID, for sure,” she can be heard saying.

Sure enough.

About a week later she started getting sick. She thought it was bronchitis, but late last week she tested positive for the coronavirus.

On Sept. 19, the health department ordered both Echo and Ibiza to close until they develop an adequate plan to comply with the county’s coronavirus guidelines. It was about time.

I was able to contact the woman who posted the video. She is obviously embarrassed and, since I have no interest in embarrassing her more, I’m not going to use her name.

But I think what she’s going through now is a cautionary tale of what can happen when our little risks become big risks that have potentially dire consequences for ourselves and those around us.

So I want to share some of what she told me in a string of messages about the experience.

First, there is no concrete proof she got the virus at the club. Nicholas Rupp, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department, told me it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly where someone contracts the disease, and they focus more of their efforts on workplaces and residences. Indeed, they have not definitively linked any cases to bars or restaurants.

Nonetheless, she said, “going there was a mistake and I knew that the moment I walked in.”

She said her group did its best to keep some distance. A video she posted was taken from upstairs, not in the thick of the packed crowd below.

“I couldn’t believe how many people were in the building and waiting to get into the building,” she said.

“I won’t lie, I had a lot of fun that night and I thought it was much-needed,” she told me. “I did bring a mask with me because I assumed we had to wear them, but I was told it was only while at the bar [and] I don’t even think I saw anyone wear them at the bar.”

In her video, she seemed uncomfortable, and she acknowledged the risk inherent in that kind of situation — demonstrated by her “I’m going to get COVID, for sure” comment.

“But the issue is I didn’t leave,” she told me. “I should have.”

In the video she posted last week, she said her symptoms started out as a sinus infection, then felt like bronchitis, then pneumonia, then she tested positive for COVID. “Yay.”

“Stay healthy and don’t be an idiot and go to a ... club during a pandemic,” she says in a raspy voice. “What the hell was I thinking?”

The point is not to shame anyone. We’re all losing it.

If you really feel like you’re slipping, get help. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and is staffed 24 hours a day.

Otherwise, find ways to look out for your mental health — get outside, hit the trails, ride a bike, see that small group of friends — but be safe about it. Distance and wear a mask, especially as infections are blowing up around us.

Because the alternative is learning the hard way, like the woman who went clubbing at Echo, that some risks aren’t worth it.

“Honestly,” she said, “it made me realize even more, though, that this isn’t the time to let your stir crazy get the best of you.”