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First Utahn dies of COVID-19, confirmed cases up to 181, health department says

By Lauren Bennett and Graham Dudley, KSL.com | Updated - Mar. 22, 2020 at 5:46 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 22, 2020 at 12:50 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A Utahn diagnosed with COVID-19 has died of the disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus, officials announced Sunday.

Doctors said the patient was a man older than 60 years old and from Davis County. He suffered from underlying health conditions prior to contracting the disease, and was being treated at Lakeview Hospital for the past two days. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Saturday, according to a news release.

Further details about the death weren’t immediately available.

“First and foremost, Jeanette and I want to express our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of this individual,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “The pain this family must be feeling right now puts into perspective the sacrifices we are all making to keep one another safe and healthy. We encourage everyone to do their part by practicing safe health practices, including social distancing.”

Dr. Angela Dunn, UDOH state epidemiologist, said in a statement that even though some Utahns will lose their life to the disease, "it is heartbreaking to announce this first death."

“We share in this family’s grief and are deeply committed to doing all we can to ensure the health and safety of our community,” Dunn said. “We need all Utah residents to do their part in taking the necessary steps to limit the spread of this illness.”

In a Facebook post, the man's daughter said he was a giant and "so tender."

"I got to say I love you. I got to hug him. I got 29 years. I am so blessed," the daughter said.

The family had known his lungs were compromised and he was at risk. His daughter said she was grateful he died quickly and did not suffer.

In a press conference Sunday afternoon, Dunn said the Davis County Health Department has been reaching out to people who might have been in contact with the deceased man "to assess their risk and recommend quarantine if appropriate."

Dunn said the patient's case was likely travel-related. "We do anticipate further spread of COVID-19 in Utah," she said.

"We're definitely seeing an increase in cases and we're expecting that to continue," Dunn said later. "We're in that acceleration phase, and we anticipate more cases before we start seeing a deceleration."

Lakeview Hospital CEO Troy Wood said the family "followed the proper steps by calling the hospital prior to arrival to inform us of the patient’s possible COVID-19 diagnosis" and that hospital personnel met the patient in the parking lot with full protective clothing to limit exposure.

“Our hearts go out to the family at this difficult time,” Wood said in a statement. "We also want to express great appreciation to the health care workers for their diligence in caring for this patient and adhering to the necessary precautions to limit any possible exposure."

The death comes as confirmed case numbers in the state reached 182 on Sunday, up from 136 the day before. Of those cases, 84 were in Salt Lake County, including four Utah visitors; Summit County has 50 cases, and Davis County has 19.

Southwest Utah announced its second case on Saturday. Dunn said that case has not been reflected in UDOH's Sunday numbers, but she confirmed that it had occurred. Central Utah, San Juan County, Southeast Utah, and the TriCounty area have not reported any confirmed cases.

Dunn said about 10% of Utah's COVID-19 cases have required hospitalization, and that hospitals can currently meet the needs of those required to be hospitalized.

The first positive case in Utah was confirmed on March 6, just hours after Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency in response to the virus.

The first case doesn’t include Mark Jorgensen, the St. George man who contracted the disease while aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship and later came to Utah on Feb. 28 to recover. Since then, cases in Utah have grown.

UDOH is reminding Utahns to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by following the recommendations in its recent public health order, including:

  • Any individual who exhibits any symptom of illness consistent with COVID-19 should withdraw from or be excluded from any physical social event or gathering.
  • Avoid social gatherings or events of more than 10 people.
  • If an individual has tested positive for COVID-19, each member of the individual’s household should self-isolate.
  • Anyone over the age of 60 or who is immunocompromised should avoid contact with any other individual except to receive critical assistance.
  • Everyone should avoid discretionary travel, gymnasiums, shopping trips (other than shopping for food and other essentials), and social visits.

"We really need to, as a culture and as a society, start embedding those practices into our daily lives," Dunn said.

"Please don't let this heighten any fears you may have of the virus. I know this is scary, but I also know that God does not give us the spirit of fear," the man's daughter said.

Contributing: Ashley Imlay, KSL

Lauren Bennett
Graham Dudley

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