These Utah leaders caught COVID-19, and they’re urging people to take virus seriously
‘I felt like I was being beat up’: Salt Lake senator, council members tell what it’s like to get sick with coronavirus
SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw still has no idea how he was infected.
“To this day, I don’t know anyone that I came in contact with,” Bradshaw, who tested positive for COVID-19 on March 24, told the Deseret News on Monday. “It’s a true case of community spread.”
Sen. Luz Escamilla is convinced she caught the virus while spending 14-hour days on Utah’s Capitol Hill during the last week of the legislative session mid-March. She thought she had somehow survived an entire session without coming down with some type of illness like a cold or the flu — a typical occurrence for the senator during the grueling 45-day session.
But then came the exhaustion. Then the body aches. Then the fever.
“I was so exhausted and my body just hurt,” Escamilla said. “I felt like I was being beat up.”
After days of not qualifying for a test, Escamilla, 42, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 20 — a scary diagnosis for a mom of four kids who shares a household with her 66-year-old mother. She and her 3-year-old daughter suffer from asthma, too.
“I was feeling terrible for my kids, for my husband. The feeling that any one of them could get a complication,” she said.
Escamilla’s husband later developed symptoms, complaining of awful headaches and body aches. One morning, he told Escamilla he felt very sick and got out of bed to go to the bathroom — and that’s when she heard a thump.
Escamilla rushed in, finding her husband had fainted. His blood pressure had dropped so dramatically he’d lost consciousness. That’s when their doctor told them to both go to the hospital to get tested, after days of being told they didn’t qualify for Utah’s then-more restricted test criteria, when the state had a more limited supply of test kits available.
Bradshaw said had it not been for his partner’s worry and insistence that he try and get tested, he might not have, since the symptoms felt tolerable. Had he not known the world was in the middle of a pandemic, he said “I would have absolutely ignored my symptoms.”
“I’m not someone that goes to the doctor very often for things I feel like I can normally deal with at home,” Bradshaw said. “Luckily, Neil was persistent in really wanting me to get tested. And I’m glad that he pushed for that. We were following recommendations, we were staying home, but it definitely kind of changed how you felt. ... It can feel abstract. I don’t know where I got it, but it can really be anyone.”
Salt Lake City Councilmen Darin Mano and Dan Dugan both said they started feeling ill soon after their return home from a City Council trip to Washington, D.C., for the National League of Cities’ annual legislative conference.
Mano said, for him, it started with a mild cough. Then body aches, a headache and a fever. After a few days, Mano said he started feeling “pretty much 100%” with just a lingering cough. Then, five days later, he said he started feeling shortness of breath.
For Dugan, it started with a “low-grade” fever, he said, then a strange loss of taste. He said his wife’s usually good cooking suddenly lost its appeal. Then, one morning, he poured out two cups of coffee that tasted unusually bitter before he concluded something was wrong.
“I went, ‘This is not right,’” he said.
Bradshaw, Escamilla, Mano and Dugan are four Utah leaders who have publicly disclosed their positive COVID-19 tests. They discussed their experience with the Deseret News in hopes Utahns can learn from them as the global coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the world — and as the death toll continues to rise.
None of them required hospitalization — but Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democratic congressman, spent more than a week in the hospital following his positive COVID-19 test. The 45-year-old congressman had shortness of breath so acute, he said it felt as though there was a “belt around my chest.”
One Utah public figure is among the 13 Utahns who have died so far of the disease: Former House Speaker Bob Garff.
Mano, who met with McAdams during his visit to Washington, said it’s “impossible to say” if his and McAdams’ cases are connected, but Mano suspected because his symptoms appeared first, “it’s more likely that I gave it to him.”
“Neither of us were sick at the time,” Mano said, “so I doubt it was related, but if it was, I think it’s more likely it came from me to him.”
All the Salt Lake City Council members who went on the D.C. trip (Councilman Andrew Johnston did not go) self-quarantined.
To Mano, it’s not just COVID-19’s potential lethality that’s scary. It’s that it can hide in plain sight in asymptomatic carriers — and even feel so mild to some that it’s easy to brush it off as a common flu.
“That’s what’s scary,” he said. “People might not be feeling symptoms at all and still be contagious.”
That’s why following social distancing guidelines and staying home is so important, he said.
“It’s critical that everyone takes it seriously,” Mano said. “Even if you’re lucky like me, your mom might not be, your neighbor might not be. We’re all responsible for each other in this.”
The senator and the councilmen all said they haven’t left their homes since they’ve fallen ill — and plan to stay there for weeks longer to abide by Gov. Gary Herbert’s “stay home, stay safe” directive and Salt Lake County’s more strict stay-at-home order.
All four of them were complimentary of Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson for their stay-at-home orders. But they say more should be done statewide, and they believe the governor, who is among only a handful of U.S. governors who has yet to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, should take that next step.
“The county-by-county orders are, frankly, confusing,” Bradshaw said. “Regardless of whether you’re in a rural county or urban county, this is going to affect every county in the state at some point. I think we’re taking the right steps in Salt Lake County, but a statewide order would be magnitudinous.”
Escamilla, who said Monday she’s feeling much better but continues to quarantine with her family, also advocated for a statewide stay-at-home order, and urged Utahns to heed medical experts’ advice.
“This is serious. It’s not like a regular flu. It doesn’t feel like that. Even if you don’t develop complications. It’s going to take a toll on your body,” she said.
“I would not bet on any of this stuff,” she added. “This is not the time to be playing Vegas and casino-style. Stay home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.”
Both Mano and Bradshaw, who are openly gay, said they have been self-quarantining at home with their partners, who have been presumed positive for COVID-19 after showing “mild” symptoms.
Dugan said he and his wife slept in separate bedrooms, used separate bathrooms, “and did our best” to keep the shared kitchen clean. He said his wife tested negative, but that could be a false negative or sheer luck.
Dugan has been personally advocating for the use of masks in public, while reserving N95 masks for health care workers, even prior to the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation to wear cloth face coverings in public. He said covering your face, along with following social distancing guidelines, washing your hands obsessively, and keeping your hands away from your face, is just one more precaution that can help save lives.
“If we’re overly cautious about it, so be it,” he said. “I’d rather be overly cautious to protect my loved ones and your loved ones than to think, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter.’”