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As part of our series Alone Together, our newsroom is collecting stories of social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

Alone Together: Experiencing The Coronavirus

Illustration of a woman on a phone screen.
Renee Bright / KUER
KUER spoke with Utahns about their experiences with COVID-19.

Nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic in Utah, over 50,000 people in the state have contracted the disease. It’s affected the health and safety of anyone at high risk for serious complications from the virus, increased mental health concerns and put tens of thousands out of work. It’s forced the world to adapt to new ways of interacting, going to work and school.

As of Friday morning, well over half a million people in the state have been tested, and more than 400 Utahns have died. 

The virus has touched all age groups, from babies less than a year old to seniors over 85. It has affected men and women almost equally, and impacted every demographic group in the state, though the Hispanic community and white people have borne the brunt of cases. American Indian, Alaskan and Hawaiian Natives, and Pacific Islanders in Utah have died from COVID-19 at well over twice the per-capita rate of any other demographic.

Cases have been recorded in every county, except for Daggett

People between the ages of 25 and 44 account for most of the state’s confirmed cases, making up 38% of the total cases. But people 65 or older account for nearly three-quarters of the deaths. 

For the Utahns who’ve personally experienced the virus, some have gone through harrowing hospital visits. Others have recovered quickly, showing few, if any, symptoms. But many gained a new perspective on how the state has handled the pandemic. 

Here are a few of their stories.

María Olague

Olague’s husband, Jesús, contracted the virus at work. He was one of about 600 employees infected after an outbreak at the JBS meat packing facility in Hyrum. 

Olague said that before he tested positive, her husband would come home and immediately shower, wash his clothes and disinfect every surface he touched on the way in. Afterwards, he stayed quarantined in their bedroom. Somehow, neither she nor their five kids got sick. 

Olague said JBS was offering significantly reduced wages to those who contracted the virus and had to stay home, and many simply could not afford that option. She said that probably contributed to the virus spreading. But she also said her husband isn’t mad at the company, because he feels it did everything it could to protect workers. Management gave them masks and set up plexiglass dividers, but she said not everyone took the precautions seriously.

“It just takes one person not to follow the rules to get everybody else sick,” she said. “It's just up to us. I mean, we can't blame anybody but ourselves. We have to keep ourselves safe.”

Jen Hansen

Hansen is 54 and lives in Midway. She thinks she contracted the virus on a plane, on her way to Hawaii with her husband in late February. 

She said the virus has left a lasting impact on her life. She’s what’s become known as a long-hauler, someone who faces lingering symptoms well after she was considered recovered from the disease. She said early symptoms included chills, headaches and deep body aches. But worst of all was a crushing shortness of breath, which she described as feeling like a belt tightened around her chest. 

“I was doing everything I could to gasp for air,” Hansen said. “My husband said he would wake me up in the middle of the night and prop me up because he was afraid I was going to die in my sleep.”

She said the longest lasting symptoms have been extreme fatigue, brain fog and labored breathing. The 54-year-old said sometimes it feels like she has early onset dementia, and she now has to use an inhaler.

“Some people say ‘oh, this isn't real, it's just the flu,’” she said. “I'll be honest with you, I was one of those people. And I'm now battling it and not sure if it's ever going away.”

Dallin Bradford

Bradford is 24 and lives in Orem. He said he and his wife contracted the coronavirus about two weeks ago from his mother-in-law, who is a singing coach and got it from one of her students. 

He said his symptoms began two days after she had visited them, a bad fever, sore throat, loss of taste and smell and diarrhea. But after about two awful days, he began to recover, though he said he is still dealing with fatigue and a slight head cold. 

He said after his experience, which he thinks seems like a good representation of what most people would go through if they got the virus, he feels that much of the conversation around it has become overblown. People are directing too much anger and hostility against those who have different views about the pandemic. And so he said he now feels it’s just as important to listen to others with compassion as it is to stay socially distant and wear a mask. 

“I think then we'll find that the virus is not as scary as some people think it is,” Bradford said. “But they'll also find that wearing masks isn't as scary as some people think it is. We can all get through this together if we'll stop politicizing it and worrying so much about what other people are doing.”

LaVonne Maloney

Like Hansen, Maloney, 65 and from Draper, believes she contracted the virus while traveling. She and her husband had begun a month and a half trip through Europe, but the day after they landed in Spain, the country completely shut down. That cut a month and a half vacation to just a few days. 

Shortly after arriving back home, the symptoms came. 

“It was like the worst cold you’ve ever had,” Maloney said. “It was everyday, totally fatigued. You could hardly get out of bed.” 

She said she and her husband consider themselves lucky to have gotten through. They didn’t need medication or hospital care. But they are worried about what their experience might suggest to others. 

“My view is I'm terrified,” she said. “People are looking at us, they're thinking, ‘OK, you were fine.’ And so they're not taking it seriously. The impact of not taking action has been so devastating to so many people”

Editors’ note: Lavonne Maloney is a financial supporter and volunteer for KUER.
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