Salt Lake County launches campaign to share real life stories about COVID-19

(Screengrab from YouTube) Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of infectious diseases at University of Utah Health, discusses the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on Utah's health care system in a YouTube video created by Salt Lake County. The county has launched a campaign sharing pandemic stories in an effort to get Utahns to take the coronavirus seriously.

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From long-haulers to medical workers to people who lost loved ones due to the pandemic, Salt Lake County is sharing stories about people impacted by COVID-19 in an effort to curb the latest surge of infections.

Over the coming weeks, county residents will see videos, billboards and bus ads with messages about people grieving or facing chronic illness after catching the virus. Mayor Jenny Wilson urged Utahns to take these lived experiences to heart by remaining diligent about wearing masks and forgoing gatherings this holiday season.

“We see people in our state and county right now who still deny the difficult situation we’re in,” Wilson said at a virtual news conference announcing the campaign. “It’s only sharing the truth, whether it’s a spreadsheet or personal story, that’s going to help us move the needle right now.”

Stephanie Deer said her sister recently died not due to COVID-19, but because she had heart failure and couldn’t find care in Utah’s overrun hospitals.

“I don’t feel the general population does understand how vulnerable they are,” Deer said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what my family is going through, what [my sister’s] nine-year-old son is going through.”

Deer said she felt frustrated when she overheard people discussing loopholes to get around Gov. Gary Herbert’s recent executive order mandating masks, restricting gatherings and limiting team sports statewide.

“This is not a virus you want to roll the dice with,” said Lisa O’Brien, founder of Utah Long Haulers, a support group for those experiencing long-term health issues after becoming infected with COVID-19.

Harvard Medical School reports that between 50% and 80% of COVID-19 patients experience lingering symptoms weeks or months after becoming infected, even after the virus is not detectable. O’Brien is one of those patients, and she said sharing more stories like hers could help others take the virus seriously.

“The stuff that our bodies are doing, you feel crazy,” she said. “You feel alone. I don’t want anyone to go through it the way I did.”

County officials said the intention of the campaign is not to scare people or frighten them away from seeking medical care, but instead to educate Utahns about the gravity of the pandemic.

“We’re doing everything we can do with the health department and ... through government partnerships to combat COVID-19, but our staff is tired. Health care workers throughout this community are tired, and this is a heartbreaking time to live,” Wilson said. “We still have work ahead.”