MURRAY — It was one year ago Sunday that St. George resident Mark Jorgensen arrived at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and became the first Utahn with a confirmed COVID-19 case to be treated in the state.
Intermountain's Dr. Todd Vento and Jorgensen appeared in a virtual meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss the anniversary, and about Jorgensen's experience with the coronavirus and what doctors have learned about COVID-19 in the months since he was treated. Vento, an infectious disease physician who treated Jorgensen, said it's "hard to believe" it's been a year since Jorgensen arrived.
Jorgensen was a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that became a petri dish of coronavirus infections while sailing near Japan last year. His wife, Jerri, tested positive on the ship and was taken to a Japanese hospital. Mark Jorgensen was flown home from Japan by the U.S. government and first tested positive for COVID-19 after landing in California.
Days later, Jorgensen was flown to his home state to be treated at Intermountain Medical Center. Jorgensen was later allowed to quarantine at his own home with his wife.
He never exhibited symptoms of the virus.
Vento explained that, at the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required patients to test negative for COVID-19 before they could leave isolation. Jorgensen was holed up in his home for weeks before the CDC changed its guidance, and he left isolation in March 2020.
"I do remember that phone call," Vento said, "calling him ... and then one day saying, 'Hey, you're free to be out of isolation.' I remember him saying, 'Wait, I'm still positive.' I said, 'That's right, but now the CDC has a new approach.'
"I think the lesson there is, we learn things," Vento added. "We have to change, we have to adjust. People said not to use masks; that probably set us back quite a bit. Now we know that the data is incredible for masks, and we need to use masks and we need to accept that. But you can see when you have these steep learning curves early on, sometimes folks will interpret that as, 'Oh, maybe you don't know what you're doing.' Well, the reality is, we really didn't. And why is that? We had a virus we had never heard of, never seen, until December of 2019. We had to learn very quickly."
'I don't regret going at all'
Jorgensen said he believes he caught COVID-19 on the flight back to the United States.
"That whole thing was a nightmare," he remembered, recalling the "battle between the CDC, the State Department and the White House" over whether he and his fellow American passengers should even be allowed back.
"That plane ride back was quite interesting," he said. "Everyone was packed in this cargo plane, 747. I'm sure there was some transmission going on there."
Jorgensen said it was a little "puzzling" to see the "fuss" being made about him, because he didn't have any symptoms.
"I felt just fine the whole time," he said, but understands that "people were learning" about the virus and "what this all was."
Today, asymptomatic COVID-19 patients are generally advised to isolate at home for 10 days.
Jorgensen said the year since he left isolation has been "pretty uneventful." But he's not sure he "skated free" from COVID-19 like he once thought.
"I've got a memory fog that's going on that I'm hearing is a symptom of it, and I'm wondering if that's part of it," Jorgensen said. He's also been having trouble with his eyes that his ophthalmologist is "convinced" is related.
Jorgensen said he hasn't had a coronavirus vaccine yet and wants to "see how it plays out" first, but will probably follow his doctor's advice and get one eventually.
He said he doesn't regret setting sail on the Diamond Princess.
"I don't live life that way," he said. "I did what I did, and this is what happened. ... I don't regret going at all. We had a great time, and we had a little side adventure afterwards, and OK, it was what it was. And yes, I definitely plan to cruise again.
"I'm actually in Costa Rica right now," he said. "This is our first international travel since all of this. So, obviously, we're not letting any fear of that stop us. That's just kind of our philosophy in life."