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Utah’s First COVID-19 Patient Reflects Back One Year After Hospitalization

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — It was one year ago that Utah’s first COVID-19 patient was hospitalized, marking the beginning of the pandemic in the state.

St. George residents Mark and Jerri Jorgensen were among the thousands of people quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan after dozens of people tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The couple also tested positive for COVID-19 before they made their way home. 

Mark was the first to be isolated in a biocontainment unit at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, even though he never showed any symptoms of the virus.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year, but here we are,” said Jorgensen.

Since then, he’s come a long way, and so have doctors.

“It felt very surreal, the whole experience. The police escorts and the precautions and the ambulance and the stealth way they got me into the hospital,” remembered Jorgensen.

“We didn’t intend to make him the guinea pig, but we had to learn from what happened and realize we’re not going to be able to do this for the next one, two, three, four, five patients that come back in,” said Dr. Todd Vento, infectious disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

Vento said a year ago, they had no idea what was in store.

“I wasn’t thinking that it would be that intense into summer and fall, sort of naively thinking we’d be able to get it under control, but the virus has certainly shown us it makes the timeline,” said Vento.

Health officials didn’t know much about the virus back then — like how long people should isolate, or how long they’d be contagious.

“We learned things. 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,” said Vento.

A year later, Vento said we’ve come a long way, but we’re definitely not finished yet.

“Marathons are 26 miles, and we’re probably somewhere in the teens, 20s, who knows. The point is, you don’t stop the marathon at that point. You can’t say, ‘Now, we’re going to stop the race.’ You have to keep running,” said Vento.

Even though Jorgensen never showed any symptoms while he had the virus, he said he’s developed memory fog and an eye condition and suspects they’re related to COVID.

He said he feels lucky that he and his wife got off as easy as they did.

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