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In our opinion: With the coronavirus, death isn’t the only bad outcome

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Sara Haight and Alta Findlay administer a COVID-19 test at a testing site run by the Salt Lake County Health Department at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Sara Haight and Alta Findlay administer a COVID-19 test at a testing site run by the Salt Lake County Health Department at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

On Saturday, New York state announced it had recorded more than 1,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for the first time since early June. 

Utahns might have compared that to what’s happening here, a state with only a fraction of New York’s population, where new cases passed the 1,000 mark for the fourth day in a row on Sunday. Monday’s count was down slightly, but the seven-day rolling average was 1,001.

Utah’s surge is not to be taken lightly. Myriad statistics may be parsed to put the state’s condition in a brighter light, such as Utah’s lower-than-average (thankfully) death rate. But don’t be fooled. Utah is undergoing a serious and difficult medical emergency that requires universal vigilance and attention. 

Death isn’t the only bad outcome. Lingering symptoms can be much more than minor annoyances.

Wear a mask. Stay at least 6 feet apart from other people. Wash your hands regularly. By now, everyone should know the recommendations. That many people are not following them signals a lack of respect and concern that belies the suffering around us. For every young Utahn willing to gather without a mask, there is an elderly person forced to stay homebound because the numbers of cases have surged.

Utah’s death rate from COVID-19 remains low. The statistical websiteWorldometers.info bears this out. Utah has experienced 141 deaths per million population, which ranks as seventh best among all states (Alaska is first with 77). This contrasts with Utah’s ranking as the 21st worst for total cases per population, which puts it ahead of the District of Columbia, California, Maryland and a host of other states.

But focusing on the death rate alone doesn’t lend much understanding to the severity of the virus, nor the seriousness of the state’s high case count. Neither does focusing on the state’s total of 54,201 recovered cases, almost certainly an undercount considering the number of people who experience mild or moderate symptoms but never seek medical care.

What seldom gets much attention are the lingering side effects of the virus, some of which are serious and, perhaps, permanent.

The Mayo Clinic has identified some of these as lasting heart damage, a type of pneumonia that causes scar tissue and leads to long-term breathing problems, strokes, seizures or temporary paralysis.

For some, symptoms persist long after being discharged from the hospital. So-called “long haulers” are estimated to be in the tens of thousands, with many suffering severe side effects for months after contracting the virus.

All of which points to the fact that much remains unknown. Individual actions should fall on the side of caution with consideration for public health.

Any young person willing to gamble that a bout with the virus will be minimally troublesome should consider this. Any person who thinks the state’s low death rate is a cause for celebration should consider what his or her reluctance to follow safety protocols might mean for someone else.

Utahns must get serious in their fight against this virus. Lax behavior threatens public health and a relatively robust economy. Safety protocols are proven to reduce spread. People in the Beehive State, known for their kindness and their volunteering spirit, are better than that.