Social Distancing Especially Important For People With Autoimmune Diseases

Mar 21, 2020, 9:09 PM | Updated: 9:10 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — This week the Utah Department of Health said up to 50% of Utahns could get COVID-19 if no one practiced social distancing.

Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist with Intermountain Healthcare, said social distancing is critical to the health of all Utahns. She said it’s especially important for people with autoimmune diseases who are on immunosuppressant medications, in addition to the elderly and people with other chronic illnesses.

But she said it will demand the compliance of everyone for it to be effective, which is why one West Valley City family is speaking out about why it’s so important for everyone to take the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 seriously.

KSL news specialist Aley Davis video-chatted 28-year-old Cody Langford and his wife Dani Langford in their living room from her living room to practice good social distancing.

KSL TV’s Aley Davis video chats with Cody and Dani Langford to practice social distancing.

Cody was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few years ago. It’s an autoimmune disease that attacks his joints, causing severe pain and limited mobility.

“My joints get really stiff and swollen,” he said. “It affects the way I can move my joints.”

Cody relies on his hands to work every day as a diesel truck technician, but sometimes even performing simple tasks can be difficult.

“It’s quite a challenge sometimes, even putting on my shoes,” he said. “It’s hard to use tools. It’s hard to open up my toolbox.”

His wife, Dani, stays at home with their 2-year-old son, so the thought of Cody getting COVID-19 is frightening for their family.

“He’s our main source of income. So, essentially, I don’t know how we would pay our bills, or how we would do anything,” she said. “Literally our whole livelihood would be affected.”

Cody relies on immunosuppressant medication to control his illness, which puts him at high risk since it weakens his immune system’s ability to fight off viruses or infections.

Blagev said this why social distancing is critical. She told people to consider: “How are you going to feel if you are their contact they got sick from?”

Blagev warned those who think they’re immune to the coronavirus that they can still factor into the pandemic.

“The 20-, 30-, 40-year-olds who think that they’re not a high risk and are out and about — we now know (are) carriers for this spreading it around,” she said.

Blagev encouraged people to reconsider social events and even routine outings like trips to the grocery store or playground.

“Was that gathering worth it? Is there something I could do as an alternative?” she said.

Rather than focusing on a concrete number of people in a social gathering, Blagev asked people to think more broadly about the risk they pose to those around them.

She believes Utahns have the benefit of learning from other countries and U.S. cities that have been hit harder.

“We hope not to get to the stages of what people are seeing in Italy and what’s starting to happen in Seattle,” she said. “There are plenty of 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds on ventilators in Europe.”

She encouraged people at high risk to explain the importance of social distancing to their family and friends.

Cody Langford was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about two years ago, making it difficult to perform regular daily tasks without being in pain.

“Help them understand that by staying home, they’re helping you,” Blagev said.

She said it’s for the greater good and for people who may not even appear high risk, like Cody.

“I don’t think people realize how many people do have a chronic condition,” Dani said.

Even though they have an active 2-year-old who wants to get outside, the Langfords are taking social distancing seriously and ask everyone else to also.

“This entire week we’ve literally just stayed home, and then when we have had to go out we get to where we need to go, get the essentials, hurry and come back,” Dani said.

During the week, they let their son ride his bike on the sidewalk and play in the backyard.

It’s all to help Cody support their family.

“It allows me to do my job normally. It allows me to play with my son… to wrestle with him,” he said.

Cody Langford is on Immunosuppressant medication to help control rheumatoid arthritis, which allows him to stay active with his son.

Blagev told people with autoimmune illnesses to not stop or make any changes to your medication without first consulting their doctor.

“It’s certainly something to discuss with your healthcare provider and make those decisions, but I would be very hesitant to just unilaterally stop your medications,” she said.

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at

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Social Distancing Especially Important For People With Autoimmune Diseases