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Utah reports new daily COVID-19 record as caregivers reflect on 2020

Levi Atkinson, a University of Utah Health medical assistant, sanitizes his air-purifying respirator after administering a nasal swab COVID-19 test, offered by the Wellness Bus and University of Utah Health, at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.
Levi Atkinson, a University of Utah Health medical assistant, sanitizes his air-purifying respirator after administering a nasal swab COVID-19 test, offered by the Wellness Bus and University of Utah Health, at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many societal sacrifices, leaving most everyone wanting for a sense of normalcy.

Perhaps more than anyone else, health care workers want to see things change.

But with another record high daily case count on Thursday, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long this may last.

“Caring for patients the way we used to” is something Mackenzie Visentin, a nurse manager at the Women’s Center at Intermountain Healthcare’s Alta View Hospital, hopes the future will bring.

“My wish for 2021 would be that we would see something after COVID,” she said, adding that she’s proud of her team of nurses who have “chosen to have a good attitude through this challenge.”

“We have never been challenged to this extent,” said Breno Rodrigues, acute care physical therapist at Alta View. “There have been days we’ve been on our last nerve ... fuses have been very short and we have come together as a group of humans that care about other humans.”

He said the increased stress brought out the best in his colleagues in order to save lives.

Utah has reported 1,269 deaths resulting from COVID-19 infection throughout the state — lives that would not have been lost otherwise. As part of that, 13 new deaths were listed on Thursday.

The known number of infections has reached 276,612 with 4,672 new cases of COVID-19, a new daily record for Utah. The previous record for cases reported in a single day was 4,588 on Nov. 20 and 5,352, including backlogged data reported on Nov. 14.

“Today’s case counts are a sobering reminder that we are still in this battle. With schools and universities set to reopen in the coming weeks, each of us must do our part now to ensure schools can operate smoothly,” according to a statement from the Utah Department of Health.

The health department is asking anyone who traveled or visited with people outside of their own household to assume potential exposure to the virus and limit interactions with others.

Anyone with symptoms, however mild, is asked to get tested and stay home until results are posted. Those with positive tests must isolate for 10 days.

“Doing so can help protect our already strained hospitals and health care workers in the coming days and weeks,” the health department stated.

The percentage of positive tests is still hovering at 25.6%, meaning that 1 in 4 people tested has the virus. It also means that a lot of spread is continuing to go undetected in society, particularly in people who do not get tested.

The state has tested 1.7 million people since the pandemic hit Utah in March.

And while it appeared that hospitalizations were easing up earlier this week, Thursday’s report includes 510 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The health department does not plan to release a COVID-19 update on New Year’s Day.

Visentin said she wishes people would have “come together to wear masks early on ... it’s taken a long time to get the majority to wear masks in our state,” a mistake she said if rectified would have helped to subside the rampant spread of disease a lot sooner.

But even with the seemingly endless need for caregivers to work overtime and become innovative with how they provide care, some health care workers have found a silver lining.

“It’s shown me how strong we can all be in the face of adversity,” said Jake Elkins, a labor and delivery technician at Alta View.

“I am most hopeful that we can come out of this and learn from it and overcome our challenges in the future,” he said, adding that he hopes people will “learn from our mistakes.”

Caregivers, along with others, however, hope to never have to experience another pandemic.

“I’m hopeful for the end of this pandemic,” said Dr. Dean Mayer, medical director at Intermountain’s Riverton Hospital. He said he hopes Utahns come away from this with a knowledge of how important it is to foster “community acceptance and commitment to the safety of each other.”

“We work hard every day to take care of our patients who are very sick,” said Chris Taylor, an imaging technician at Alta View. He’s proud of how much caregivers have accomplished during this trying time and that “very few of us have gotten the virus from our patients.”

“I’ve learned how determined and how resilient our country is, how everyone is throughout the hard times we’ve experienced in 2020,” Taylor said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, they said, is something they’ll be happy to bid farewell, though, just because the year changes, doesn’t mean 2020’s problems will go away. Health care workers are expecting that the vaccine might help put an end to increased capacities and public health regulations preventing more typical social behaviors.

“I want to see my friends again,” said LeAnne Blair, a nurse manager at Riverton Hospital.

So far, the state has issued the first of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine regimen to 30,200 people, though many more doses are waiting in storage, as the process for each vaccination is carefully documented.

“The vaccine has brought hope of brighter days ahead but until every Utahn has the chance to be immunized, we must continue to make small sacrifices now,” the health department said in its statement.

“I’m most hopeful that enough people in our communities will be vaccinated ... so that we can be with our families again and have our life back to normal,” Cathie Randle, a nurse supervisor at Alta View, said. She said families and patients have endured so much suffering and sorrow due to the novel coronavirus.

Health care workers, she said, may have witnessed the pandemic in different ways than the public.

“Sometimes suffering can bring out the best in people,” Randle said. “All of our caregivers have stepped up in this time and worked so many extra hours and have gone above and beyond in so many ways that they’ve just saved the day for each other and the patients.”

The health department reiterated that everyone should “wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth anytime you are in public or around someone you don’t live with. Physical distance as much as possible. Only gather with the people you live with. Wash your hands often. And stay home if you are sick, test positive or have been exposed to COVID-19.”

For more information about the vaccine, case numbers or current public health recommendations, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.