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A ‘mean bug’: Utah lawmaker back to work (virtually) after COVID-19 hospitalization

‘Just take it seriously,’ Rep. Kay Christofferson says

SHARE A ‘mean bug’: Utah lawmaker back to work (virtually) after COVID-19 hospitalization
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Rep. Kay J. Christofferson, R-Lehi, talks on the phone prior to the 2020 Utah Legislature beginning at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker who contracted COVID-19 before the beginning of the 2021 legislative session last month made his first virtual appearance back to work on Thursday after being hospitalized for almost two weeks.

“It’s great to be back,” Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, told his House colleagues on Thursday. Appearing on a TV screen while wearing an oxygen aid, he thanked everybody for their thoughts and prayers.

“I’m feeling better every day,” he said, noting that he may not be able to “make it back in person” this session but he’s still feeling “quite a bit better.”

The Utah House of Representatives then gave Christofferson a heartfelt standing ovation. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told Christofferson it was “good to see your smiling face” and said his remarks made him a “little weepy.”

Christofferson told the Deseret News in an interview Wednesday night he got sick Jan. 12, a week before the start of the session Jan. 19. He participated virtually for the first week, but “I just kept getting worse and worse.”

“I was really exhausted,” he said. “I felt like I was completely out of energy.”

Christofferson said he went to the hospital on Jan. 28 and stayed there, spending about nine days in the intensive care unit while he fought to stabilize his oxygen levels.

“Obviously it got pretty bad,” he said. “Honestly, I thought, ‘This is more serious than I realize.’”

Christofferson said eventually he began regaining his strength and was able to return home on Tuesday. But he’s still recovering.

“I’ll tell you what, I lost like 25 pounds,” he said. “What I realized is you just don’t bounce back ... I’m not bouncing back as fast as I’d hoped.”

Even though COVID-19 cases are dropping in Utah, Christofferson said he hopes people realize the state isn’t out of the woods and continue masking, social distancing and washing their hands — and to get the vaccine as soon as they’re eligible.

“Just take it seriously,” he said. “It’s a pretty mean bug.”

What surprised him, Christofferson said, is that “so many people I’ve seen” get it and they’re only sick for a few days. “It just affects everybody differently. It hit me pretty hard.”

He said he’s still not sure how he caught the virus.

“I was around family and I had meetings,” he said. “You know, you try to be cautious and use a mask, but you know, you take it off ... I don’t know.”

Christofferson posted on Facebook on Jan. 29, after he was hospitalized, to notify his constituents why he’d been absent from the Capitol and only able to participate some days virtually.

“Just before the start of the session I tested positive for COVID-19,” his post stated. “I thought I would be spending the first week working remotely and then possibly return to the Capitol this week. COVID had other plans.”

Christofferson is at least the second lawmaker this year to be hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, has been absent since the beginning of the session. A Jan. 24 post on his Facebook page stated he’s “not participating” in the session “as he is in the hospital battling COVID-19 at this time.”

The post requested privacy for the Hawkins family. There hasn’t been an update or more details about Hawkins’ condition since.

Two other lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 in the early days of the session: Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Senate Budget Vice Chairman Don Ipson, R-St. George. Three legislative staffers also tested positive during the opening days. Both senators were able to continue their legislative work virtually until they tested negative for the virus.

Since daily rapid testing provided to lawmakers and legislative staffers initially detected those five cases, no others have been reported on Capitol Hill, according to the Utah Department of Health.