Many recovered coronavirus patients are anything but

ST. GEORGE — Among the more than 1,000 people who have had the coronavirus in Southern Utah, there are 697 people who are considered recovered. 

But while the dictionary defines being recovered as returning to a “normal state of health,” many who have had the virus locally have hardly been able to return to “normal.”

“There’s a spectrum in those who have recovered that they’re not hospitalized but not in their normal health standards and not able to do activity for several months,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. 

On Sunday, the Utah Department of Health reported the 10th person in Southern Utah to die of the virus: a Washington County male at an undisclosed long-term care facility between 65 and 84 years of age.

Along with 25 new coronavirus infections in Southern Utah Sunday, the department also reported a third outbreak at a nursing home in St. George with less than five cases at Sterling Court Assisted Living. The outbreak at St. George Rehabilitation has grown above five cases, like the outbreak at The Wentworth at the Meadows.

Photos show lung x-rays of a COVID-19 patient upon admission to a hospital (left) and four days after admission as blockages built up in their lungs. | Photo courtesy Radiology Society of North America, St. George News

Those who are newly diagnosed can now count down from 21 days until they can be considered “recovered,” regardless of how they are feeling at that point.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department defines someone as being recovered from the coronavirus when they have gone more than three weeks after being diagnosed with the coronavirus without passing away.

Under that definition, it’s conceivable that there are COVID-19 patients right now in the intensive care unit of Dixie Regional Medical Center on ventilators who are considered “recovered.”

Dr. Bryce Ferguson, director of the intensive care unit at Dixie Regional, recently said the average time a coronavirus patient is spending in the ICU there is 30 days. That is keeping Dixie’s ICU hovering around 60-75% capacity. 

Statewide in the last week, the Utah Department of Health said the amount of ICU beds filled has gone from 15% on June 10 to 62.2% as of Sunday. 

To free up the quickly-filling beds, hospitals like Dixie Regional are sending coronavirus patients home as soon as they are past the point where they could die, but not necessarily “feeling better.”

“People discharged from hospital don’t just go back to their daily lives,” Dunn said. 

A large majority of those infected haven’t been in the hospital at all. As of Friday, the Utah Department of Health said 92.7% of those who have gotten the virus in the state have not been hospitalized. But many are still having to suffer with severe symptoms at home. Hospitalizations are reserved for those with the most severe of symptoms.

And those symptoms aren’t going away after what was thought to be the two-week gestation period of the virus. 

Undated photo of man sick in bed at undisclosed location | Photo by
Paul Bradbury, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Social media is filled with examples of people who describe being on day 50, 70, 80 after getting diagnosed with COVID-19 and still dealing with its symptoms. 

For some, it can be still not getting a sense of taste or smell back. For others, it is dealing with more severe conditions like uncontrollable coughing, inability to walk without pain, an on-and-off fever, damaged lungs and mini strokes. 

A recent article in The Atlantic detailed several people who still feel sick long after they were considered “recovered” from the coronavirus. Many of the coronavirus survivors have coined the term “long-haulers” online to describe having to deal with the effects of the virus long after they moved into the category of recovered.

Another online article, on the Upworthy website, compiles Twitter messages from nurses on the front line about patients considered recovered, including some of the nurses themselves.

They describe feeling “better,” then being bedridden three months later. Some are in need of lung transplants or have gone from being perfectly healthy to eight weeks later having kidney failure and now needing dialysis for the rest of their lives. A 24-year-old nurse describes chest pains and being unable to go up stairs months after her diagnosis.

Dunn said as far as Southern Utah is concerned, there are many long-haulers just starting their tough journey.

“We have had the trajectory going up there,” Dunn said of Southern Utah cases. “At the beginning, it was just your younger population that was able to deal with it, but now it’s in your high-risk communities.”

Ed. note: After initial publication, David Heaton of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department offered a clarification about patient recovery. “Our district also includes at least three days without symptoms to be considered recovered,” he said, “meaning we haven’t reported anyone recovered who is still hospitalized or experiencing any symptoms at that point.”

Updated June 21 at 8:37 p.m. to include video of line of cars waiting at drive-thru coronavirus testing site at Dixie Regional Medical Center’s 400 East campus.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!