EVANSTON — The Wyoming Department of Health confirmed Uinta County’s second coronavirus fatality this week. A WDH press release issued on Tuesday, Aug. 11, said the case was an “older” adult man with health conditions that are recognized as putting people at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19. With an additional death announced in Big Horn County at press time, that brings Wyoming’s total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 30.
Although Wyoming’s total case numbers remain relatively low in comparison to other states, people who have been ill with COVID-19 want others to know the illness is real and can result in a huge spectrum of ailments and extreme sickness.
Evanston’s Doris Gutierrez, 35, is still recovering from the effects of her COVID-19 illness. Gutierrez said her first symptoms were bizarre and not at all those commonly listed as related to infection with the novel coronavirus. She began having abdominal pain one afternoon at work and later that evening developed strange bumps on her tongue, swollen gums and puffy eyelids. The next day she woke up with more typical symptoms of fever, headache, cough and severe body aches and pains in her chest, back, shoulders, ribs and even her legs. She also lost her sense of smell and taste, which has been recognized as a very common symptom.
Gutierrez also suffered from extreme fatigue. In fact, the day she awoke with typical COVID symptoms she didn’t feel as though she had the strength to even get out of bed to go to drive-thru testing and confirm what she suspected. She did manage to make it to testing the next day and then suffered through five more days of feeling completely miserable before her test results came back positive.
Nearly four weeks later, though technically recovered, she is still suffering from fatigue, aches and pains, some mental fogginess and just not feeling “right.” Her sense of taste returned after about two weeks but she is still struggling with some inability to smell.
Local Evanston school teacher Aaron Dalton can likely relate to Gutierrez’s misery. Dalton, as well as his wife and 18-year-old daughter, came down with symptoms in mid-June, with daughter Abby the first to become symptomatic. Abby went to Evanston Regional Hospital for testing right away when symptoms began and the whole family quarantined pending results.
By the time she was confirmed as positive two days later, Aaron had also started having symptoms so he and wife Kalani also went to be tested. Aaron’s results also came back positive after two days while Kalani’s test was negative; however, she then went on to develop symptoms a few days later. Because she became symptomatic after having known exposure to a positive case, Kalani was then considered a probable case.
Abby’s symptoms consisted of fatigue, some breathing difficulties and loss of sense of smell and taste, while Aaron had similar symptoms but more shortness of breath. When Kalani began having symptoms, hers were a persistent cough and abdominal pains. The couple’s two younger elementary school-aged children never developed symptoms.
Aaron said the fatigue was overwhelming for him and Abby. “We barely had strength to get up and get a drink of water and then we’d have to take a three-hour nap.” He also said he still doesn’t have his sense of smell back two months later, although taste did finally return. With all the effects of the illness, including the fatigue and sensory loss, he lost 15 pounds due to COVID.
“The loss of sense of smell and taste is surreal,” he said. “When you can feel the texture of food and see how great it looks, but can’t smell or taste it, eating becomes more a necessary chore than an indulgence or even a pleasant experience. It’s really hard to describe.”
Neither Gutierrez nor the Daltons have any idea where they were exposed to the coronavirus. Gutierrez said she’s tried to figure it out but really has no idea. Dalton said the family all wore masks in public and avoided public events, although Abby did work at a local business that required masks for employees but not customers.
According to Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit, both are examples of what to do when a person even suspects they may have COVID-19. Gutierrez told her family members she was ill; because they’d all been around one another they too quarantined while she was awaiting test results. That turned out to be a solid decision because, in total, eight members of the family ended up coming down with symptoms and testing positive.
Dalton was teaching summer school when he became ill. Because of social distancing and mask requirements in that program, to his knowledge nobody else involved with the summer school program was infected, although his students did have to quarantine due to exposure.
Dalton said his family was careful prior to becoming infected because of high-risk family members and coworkers. “When you contract COVID, all you can do is accept it,” he said. “If you’re careful, you shouldn’t have many regrets, but it’s still a bit of a shock when it hits home.”
Gutierrez, on the other hand, said she was one who didn’t really believe the illness was real and thought it was “no big deal,” noting she was also very worried and concerned while sick that perhaps she had unknowingly spread it to others outside of her family or at her workplace because she hadn’t been as careful.
She’s now convinced and is trying to encourage others to be careful, take precautions, and practice distancing, handwashing and wearing masks. She had the flu back in December and said being sick with COVID was definitely not just a flu. “It’s real and it’s very ugly,” she said.
Gutierrez said she took ibuprofen to try to keep her fever down and drank lots of fluids. Even though her fever was fairly low grade, only reaching a high of 100.7, she said she was sweating profusely and felt like she couldn’t drink enough water. Proffit said that dehydration is a common problem with COVID and is actually a factor in many of the hospitalizations.
Dalton also emphasized the nature of the illness. While his wife’s symptoms were “like a mild flu,” he said he and Abby had much worse symptoms. “It is not a flu,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that level of exhaustion. I literally couldn’t focus on anything but feeling miserable.” He also pointed out that even his completely miserable illness would have been classified as mild or moderate from a COVID standpoint.
Proffit, too, stressed the differences between COVID and the flu, saying that Utah, for example, has had five times as many deaths related to COVID than those linked to flu during the most recent flu season. While Wyoming has had fewer problems, Proffit said, “It would be irresponsible to look at what’s happening in other states and not take steps to prevent that here.”
Besides just hospitalizations linked directly to COVID, there are also concerns about healthcare facilities being so overloaded with COVID they’re not able to adequately care for other issues. Dalton brought that up when noting both he and his wife had to be hospitalized for other emergent issues over the summer. “Thankfully, ERH was able to admit each of us for treatment. That might not have happened if we were in a COVID spike. I hope people think of others and their loved ones and keep the curve flattened with social distancing and wearing a mask when that’s not possible…Your minor discomfort could save someone else’s life.”
As of Thursday, Aug. 13, Uinta County has had 232 lab-confirmed and another 46 probable cases, with 248 of the total count listed as recovered. Wyoming has had 2,600 lab-confirmed cases and 486 probable for a total of 3,086. Of those, 2,577 are listed as recovered.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has extended the current public health orders until at least the end of August, modifying only the limit on the size of outdoor gatherings. Outdoor gatherings can now be held for up to 50% of a venue’s capacity, or a maximum of 1,000 people, as long as social distancing and increased sanitization measures are in place. Other health orders, including mask requirements in restaurants, bars, gyms, performance spaces, schools and more, have been continued.