SALT LAKE CITY – You hear it time and again — take COVID-19 seriously, wear a mask and keep your distance. But for one college student, none of that guidance really took hold until she got the virus.
"I'm 21. I'm healthy. I don't have any underlying conditions," said Hailey West, a senior at the University of Utah.
If you would have asked West what she thought about the virus at any other time this semester, she probably would have said something like, "Yeah, it's real but it's fine. Everything is going to be fine. If I get it, I'll get it."
"I'm still going to do what I want to do."
That all changed beginning last Friday, when she tested positive for COVID-19.
"I felt fine at first. I lost my smell the day after I got tested, which was very strange," she said. "Felt like a basic flu experience, but then it quickly got way worse."
Then on Tuesday, a lack of air jolted West awake around 4 a.m.
"I just couldn't breathe. It felt like there was 400 pounds on my chest," she remembered.
Before this, her mother had sent her a pulse oximeter, a tool to measure your blood-oxygen level. It had been useless until that morning, when it showed her level at 61%. A healthy person's reading would be between 96 and 99%. She called the hospital and a nurse told her to come in.
"I felt like I was going to die," West said. "Like truly, I was so terrified. I was crying."
We've been hearing for months...take the virus seriously. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Well, that guidance really didn't take hold for a UofU senior I spoke to until this week... @KSL5TV at 10 pic.twitter.com/nKuN2A6KpF— Matt Rascon KSL (@MattRasconKSL) November 13, 2020
Fortunately, West's experience in the emergency room didn't last longer than a few hours. But it was long enough to change the way she saw the virus.
"Every day it feels like I'm getting hit by a different semi-truck. I mean it's just insane," she said.
According to the Utah Department of Health, Thursday's daily increase in cases showed a huge jump to 3,919 cases from Wednesday. The rolling 7-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 23.2%, and there were 468 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday.
Every day it feels like I'm getting hit by a different semi-truck. I mean it's just insane.
"I can't speak for those who are asymptomatic and have felt fine but to have this is the worst thing I think I've ever experienced," West said.
It's been about a week since West tested positive. Her symptoms are still up and down but seem to be improving overall. At 21 years old, the sickness is far from the experience she expected, and still far from what many others are experiencing.
"People my age just aren't taking things seriously," West said. "It can affect you. Not everyone is asymptomatic. If you can take the measures to not get this, you want to do everything you can to not get this."