The CEO of a Utah medical device manufacturer recently stepped down from his duties. The reason? He had passed 100 days battling COVID-19 and was still symptomatic. This CEO was the picture of physical fitness. In his early 50s, with no underlying medical conditions, he would have been the type of person that one would have expected to rebound quickly from the infection and be back on the job. Instead, COVID-19 has proven a difficult adversary, even for this very physically fit executive.

The BBC recently aired a story on “COVID-19 long-haulers.” They reported that as many as 1 in 10 infected with COVID-19 are experiencing continuing symptoms such as nerve pain, crippling fatigue and headaches. These symptoms can continue for months. The Utah CEO is among that group experiencing multiple trips to the hospital, days of lying in bed with pain and discomfort, and an inability to perform his employment duties. He says it is the worst experience of his life. And it continues. 

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There is a belief that COVID-19 is only affecting those who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions. For the young and physically fit it is not a worry. If such a young person contracts the virus, most believe they may be down for a few days with flu-like symptoms and back to work in short order. As evidenced by our Utah CEO, that is not always the case. While it is true that some are asymptomatic and that the elderly and infirm are particularly vulnerable, we should recognize that this disease affects everyone a little differently. It is not an illness anyone should wish to contract. Every step should be taken to prevent its spread. 

In a recent public announcement, the Utah Hospital Association, in conjunction with the four largest health care delivery systems in Utah, launched “#MaskUpUtah,” encouraging all citizens to do just that: mask up when in public settings and when social distancing is difficult. Evidence continues to mount that the two most important, practical actions individuals can take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is to wear face coverings and to social distance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people 2 and older utilize face coverings.

BioUtah, the state’s trade association representing Utah’s life sciences industry, actively supports this initiative, along with continued social distancing. We are proud of the fact that more than 40 of our companies are working hard to combat COVID-19 by providing molecular diagnostic tests, serology tests, genomic tests, swabs and transport media for collecting specimens, treatment and vaccine research, personal protective equipment, and other innovative products and methods to help our society cope and overcome the COVID-19 challenge. 

Nelson Laboratories, located in Taylorsville, is one of only a few laboratories in the world qualified to certify face masks and respirators and ensure they meet established standards. Respirators, like N95 masks, are designed specifically to protect the wearer and, if worn properly, screen out 95% of all pathogens. Face masks, on the other hand, are primarily designed to prevent secretions from the wearer contaminating those around them. But, as Nelson Laboratories points out, that does not mean there is no value in protecting the wearer of the mask. 

Surgical face masks meeting national standards are capable of filtering 95% of contaminated droplets in a standard setting. While cloth face coverings may not be up to that full standard, they still present a formidable barrier to the transmission or receiving of contaminated droplets. Face masks, properly worn, present a significant barrier to the spread of COVID-19. 

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BioUtah strongly supports efforts to reactivate Utah’s economy as we lay the foundation for a return to robust growth. However, to make that possible, it’s important that all Utahns wear a face covering whenever they are in public and can’t properly social distance.

From our position working daily with health care products and health care delivery, we are confident that taking practical steps now, such as vigilantly wearing face coverings, is the most direct route to staying safe and open for business. Continued spikes in our infection rates will only lead to a decline in consumer confidence. Moreover, vital healthcare resources will potentially be stretched beyond capacity, and our economic engine will surely stall until such time as our industry develops the tools, through vaccines and therapeutics, to put the virus to rest.

Utah’s and our nation’s biopharmaceutical companies are working around the clock to develop COVID-19 therapies and vaccines. But as hard as they are working, that solution remains six months to a year in the future. In the meantime, we must be stalwart in defending against the spread of this virus, for the health of our loved ones, communities and economy. Our industry has been taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus within our manufacturing and research facilities, including the use of face coverings and social distancing.

Please join us in committing to “#MaskUpUtah” whenever in public, or when social distancing is not possible. It is one of the easiest things we can all do to fight COVID-19 and keep our economic engine running.

Kelvyn Cullimore is the president of BioUtah and former mayor of Cottonwood Heights.