This coronavirus has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives. It probably derailed your family’s summer plans, messed up your kids’ sporting events, threw a wrench into your work routine, and spoiled family dinners.
I missed all of my summer concerts and I’ve barely seen my parents in the past six months.
It’s inconvenient and exhausting and at some point I’m sure we’ve all felt like giving up.
Now imagine working in an intensive care unit, another 12-hour shift caring for a dozen people fighting to breathe, some hooked to whirring ventilators, some who simply aren’t going to make it, no matter what you do.
Everyone who gets better is replaced with another patient — just one, if you’re lucky — from a growing pipeline of sick people.
The ICU at the University of Utah Hospital is at capacity, and the ICUs at Intermountain Medical Center, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and Dixie Regional Medical Center are at or near capacity.
“Everyone in health care is stressed right now,” said Dr. Andy Pavia, head of pediatric infectious disease at the U.
“It sometimes feels very discouraging,” he said, to see others not taking it seriously enough. “We work night and day to take care of patients and … it seems sometimes people and the leaders are not doing their part.”
Nearly 7,600 health care workers have been infected since the outbreak began, and six have died.
That’s inconvenient and exhausting.
Now put yourself in the spot of one of those patients, scared and isolated. Chances are you’ll get better — these doctors and nurses, through learning and repetition, have become really good at their jobs.
Then what? Many of the patients who recover suffer long-term breathing issues, either because of damage done from having a tube shoved down their throats so they can breathe, or just from the disease itself.
You can ask state senator and lieutenant governor candidate Deidre Henderson about that. Two months after she was diagnosed, she was back on oxygen, but says she is getting better. “It’s been brutal,” she told my colleague Bryan Schott.
Or ask any of a growing group known as the long-haulers. Lisa O’Brien started a group to support those who are experiencing lingering effects from their bouts with the virus, and now it has dozens of members who report odd and sometimes shifting ailments.
“It comes and goes,” O’Brien told me. “Some days it feels like you’re finally kicking it and it shows up the next day or you’ve got new symptoms and it cycles through your whole body.”
It can be fatigue or cognitive issues or an inability to regulate body temperature or blood pressure. For O’Brien, she has experienced wild fluctuations in her heart rate, from a fluttering 220 beats per minute to a slow 30 beats.
Members of the group are frequently landing back in the hospital for symptoms of strokes or heart attacks.
“We’ve got a lot of crazy dysfunctional stuff going on with our bodies,” O’Brien said.
If you want to put a face on the ultimate toll this coronavirus is taking, scroll through the growing list of obituaries of the 572 Utahns who have died of COVID.
Just in the past few weeks, the tally has included people like Jeffrey Hulse, a father who built roads for the state, raised nine kids, and liked camping, hiking and hunting; William Cowan Stout, who ran a restaurant with his wife, had two daughters and 10 grandkids, and liked books, clocks, coins and John Wayne; and Elfriede Adams, who was born in Germany, came to America, raised three children and would knit hats for the poor and newborns in the hospital.
It’s a long and growing list, each of their friends and family members left with a hole in their lives.
They’re the people behind the record-shattering days we’ve had over the past six weeks.
If the mitigation steps Gov. Gary Herbert put into effect earlier this month are having any effect, we could start seeing the curve start to bend this week. But that will only happen if people actually abide by the mask recommendations.
Surveys by the Utah Department of Health show just 63% of Utahns say they wear masks — that’s 70% of women and just 57% of men. What’s more, just 39% of men under age 65 are wearing masks. The data confirms men are dumb.
It also confirms that we’re not doing enough.
The science is overwhelming that masks work. A recent report showed states with high levels of mask use have much lower rates of infection.
Last week, Dr. Angela Dunn tweeted a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looked at how Arizona brought down its spike earlier this year. A combination of mask mandates, closing bars and gyms and movie theaters, restricting restaurants and limiting gatherings brought the rate down by 75% in a few weeks.
We all want our economy as healthy as it can be, but you can’t have a healthy economy in a sick community. If we don’t control this virus, those Arizona measures — along with some likely restrictions on schools — will have to be the next step, and we can’t wait much longer.
We had more than 10,000 cases last week. If we keep on our current trajectory, we could add more than 11,000 cases this week, nearly 1,600 per day. Statistically, one in 20 of those people will end up in the already-overwhelmed hospitals in a few weeks.
Hospitals are already bracing for the wave of patients who tested positive in the past 14 days and are expected to need hospitalization this week or next.
It is, Pavia said, “keeping us up at night.”
“The public, writ large, is not voluntarily taking things seriously enough, having large gatherings still, not wearing masks,” Pavia said. “We know many people are being extremely careful, but others are not, either due to fatigue or this broad disinformation campaign.”
Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, told my colleagues late last week: “We’re going to overwhelm the hospitals. Now it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how do we handle it?”
In extreme scenarios, that could include rationing care, denying scarce treatment to patients least likely to survive.
We’re exhausted, but we’re nowhere near as exhausted as those health care workers breaking their backs treating the sick.
We’re inconvenienced, but not nearly as inconvenienced as the long-haulers coping with debilitating ailments and an uncertain future.
And if we give up now, the toll in the coming weeks could be scores of preventable deaths.