SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Ben McAdams said Monday he’s still feeling “pretty weak” after a battle with the new coronavirus that kept him hospitalized for more than a week and then quarantined from his family for 72 hours after he returned home.

“I finished quarantine this morning,” the 45-year-old congressman told the Deseret News, coughing repeatedly. “I’m virus-free at this point, but still some lingering effects. It hit me pretty hard so I’m still pretty weak. I lost over 10 pounds. My body, I think, is still trying to adjust to a pretty major shock. ... I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.”

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams marks one week hospitalized with coronavirus
Utah Rep. Ben McAdams tests positive for coronavirus

McAdams, a Democrat who represents Utah’s 4th Congressional District, said he was cleared to rejoin his family Monday after being confined to a spare bedroom in the basement of his family home since his release Saturday from University of Utah Hospital.

“It was hard to hear their feet upstairs,” McAdams said, especially since his wife and four children were unable to visit him at the hospital because of new restrictions put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. He said he talked with his wife, Julie, through the basement bedroom’s door when she left food for him.

Sitting down to his usual protein breakfast shake Monday with his family “felt really good this morning,” he said. His family is not showing any symptoms, McAdams said, and doctors have assured him that he is no longer contagious, although his nagging cough could linger for a month or longer.

One of the first members of Congress to test positive for COVID-19, on March 18, McAdams said he’s sharing his story as “a wake-up call” for those who believe their age or health protects them from becoming gravely ill from the deadly virus — or who aren’t worried about spreading it.

“I’m 45. I’m very healthy. I exercise every day. I didn’t fit any of the risk categories as somebody who would get hit so hard by this. I think it just goes to show how unpredictable this virus is, how little we know about it and it really can happen to anyone,” McAdams said. “This is serious and not something to play with.”

Although he said he did not develop pneumonia and did not require a ventilator, McAdams said X-rays showed spots on his lungs. He said he was treated with the controversial anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in the hospital, but he believes more study is needed to determine whether it helps treat coronavirus symptoms.

McAdams said he was at home when he first showed symptoms and was careful not to take any risks to spread the virus. Although he felt like he had a cold on March 15, after returning to Utah from Washington, D.C., he self-quarantined.

Those symptoms overnight turned into a fever and aches, and within two days, become “scary.”

“It was hard to breathe. It felt like I had a belt around my chest,” he said. That led to his doctor telling him to be tested for the new coronavirus and, when the symptoms worsened by March 20, to being hospitalized for more than a week as his fever spiked as high as 103 degrees again and again.

“That was such peace of mind to me that I had really done everything. Even when it didn’t seem necessary, I had done everything I could do to not spread it to anybody else,” McAdams said. “That’s important for people to realize, that you don’t want to be part of spreading it to a friend or a loved one.”

His wife, Julie McAdams, told KSL Newsradio last Friday she and their four children tried to talk with him several times a day while he was hospitalized but “he had a couple pretty bad days midweek where he didn’t have the energy to have a conversation, so we took turns talking to him and telling him how we’re doing,”

She said he was doing better on Thursday, but then his fever came back.

After he was released from the hospital on Saturday to continue his recovery at home, McAdams tweeted that people should take the virus “really seriously” and follow the guidelines and advice from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Let’s get through this together,” he said.

McAdams praised Gov. Gary Herbert and other state and local leaders for how they’ve handled the pandemic.

“I think in true Utah fashion, what I see from our public officials is that they’re putting the health and safety of the public ahead of any disagreements. There’s no Republicans and Democrats. We are all Utahns working together to protect our community,” he said. “It’s important to follow their guidance.”

The only Democratic member of Utah’s congressional delegation said he’s not focusing on his upcoming bid for his party’s nomination in April or on what is expected to be a tough race to retain the seat he won by less than 700 votes in 2018.

“For now, I’m letting my campaign manager worry about the campaign. I know that is something that will happen this year. But right now, I’m focusing on getting my energy back and helping my constituents who have a lot more on their mind right now than politics,” he said.

A fundraising email for McAdams that went out Monday noted, “This is a difficult time for many in our community. All of us here at Ben McAdams for Congress hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy.” It included links to information about COVID-19 and instructions on how to pause future fundraising emails.

The congressman said he’ll stay busy communicating to constituents what’s available in the just-passed $2 trillion federal stimulus package to help them weather COVID-19’s economic impact, as well as working to ensure medical professionals have the protective gear they need to stay safe.

McAdams said for now he’s keeping the beard he grew in the hospital because he didn’t have the strength to shave, and after dropping enough weight that his clothes no longer fit, he said he plans for the next several days at least to “rest where I can ... so I can catch my breath. I’m still pretty wiped out.”

But still, McAdams said he’s doing so much better than he was.

“I actually feel really good. I don’t have a lot of energy and I have this cough,” he said. “But I don’t feel sick.”