RIVERTON — When Rep. Candice Pierucci and her family sat down to have a small Sunday dinner with a close relative last week, she said they took precautions, including having hand sanitizer at the ready.
No one had an inkling of sickness, she said.
But the next day, Pierucci, R-Herriman, said she got a call from the family member — whom she declined to further identify to respect their privacy — warning they had been exposed to COVID-19 in a work meeting. Then, within 24 hours, Pierucci said her husband began experiencing symptoms.
Chills. Full body aches. Cough. And a terrible fever.
“Those first five days were absolutely awful,” she said. “He just couldn’t even get out of bed. It was really, really bad.”
Pierucci said her husband went to get tested but was asked to come back to take the test again after his provider, Intermountain Healthcare, told him there had been issues with testing that day. Within two days after his second test, Pierucci said her husband confirmed he had tested positive for COVID-19.
And then she, too, began feeling sick. Along with their 16-month-old son, Benji. They had joined the 35,000 other Utahns who have come down with the novel coronavirus.
Pierucci said her and Benji’s symptoms have been more mild than her husband’s, who she said is now on the mend and never needed to be hospitalized. Though she was worried for her son, his symptoms have been manageable, and she said a pediatrician told her most children “handle it really well.”
Pierucci agreed to talk to the Deseret News on Tuesday to publicly share how her “young, healthy, regular Utah family” got “caught off guard in the middle of this pandemic.” Pierucci hopes Utahns learn from her experience: That even though her relative was asymptomatic and their small family dinner felt safe, COVID-19 still came into her home.
“We have tried to still continue on with our lives while implementing social distancing measures and mask wearing,” she said. “That’s been something that we’ve done. ... But it really makes you pause and think about it.”
Pierucci joins a handful of other Utah elected officials who have publicly shared their experiences with COVID-19, including U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams (who was hospitalized for over a week), Utah Senate President Stuart Adams (who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies despite being unaware of having the disease), state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw and Salt Lake City Councilmen Darin Mano and Dan Dugan.
As soon as they got the call from the family member, the Pieruccis quarantined themselves at home. Luckily, Pierucci said, they didn’t go anywhere between the Sunday dinner and the phone call. Had they spread the virus, she said she would have felt “terrible.”
“When we talked to the health department, they said, ‘Wow, you did a great job managing this,’” Pierucci said.
Fortunately, the disease hasn’t resulted in any serious health complications for Pierucci or her family. But the virus can still be deadly, especially for high-risk populations such as the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
Before contracting COVID-19, Pierucci said she and her family have “been trying to do our best with social distancing while still living our lives.” But she said any level of social interaction — whether it be going to the grocery store or taking her boy to the Living Planet Aquarium to help combat the “stir crazy” — “there’s that level of risk we’re assuming by not being at home.”
“I don’t fault (our relative) in any way. Absolutely this is a pandemic; a lot of us are going to end up getting it,” Pierucci said. “But we should be smart about it, particularly with high-risk individuals, so it’s something we’re really being cautious about.”
At the same time, Pierucci said she understands Utahns still want to live their lives, and she’s supportive of healthy Utahns “participating in the economy while also being smart about it.”
But her experience was an eye-opener to the risks.
Pierucci urged Utahns to social distance and wear masks when in public. Though she said she’s not supportive of a statewide mask mandate — in favor of Gov. Gary Herbert’s approach to leaving the decision up to local leaders — Pierucci wished mask wearing hasn’t become so politicized.
Last week, Utah County made national news after a group of residents crowded into a Utah County Commission meeting to protest the governor’s mask requirement for schools. The meeting was canceled due to violations of public health directives.
“To me, it’s selfish to not be willing to (wear masks),” Pierucci said. “I don’t think it’s the government’s job to mandate that upon everyone, but I think, as we talk about being responsible members of society ... it’s being engaged and doing the best you can.”