COVID-19 in Sanpete County

Stories of the pandemic

Life changes dramatically in face of virus threat

By Robert Stevens

March 18, 2020

These empty shelves at Walmart in Ephraim are the result of a run on retail purchases for things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. After COVID-19 was declared a national emergency last week by the White House, people began hoarding extreme amounts of some items.

Despite no locally confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sanpete County, the novel coronavirus is rapidly impacting nearly every facet of our daily lives.

As of Tuesday, there were 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah residents and 10 cases from visitors. The majority of those cases are in Salt Lake County, where wide sweeping measures are being implemented to stem the tide.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced a plan of preemptive public measures to help slow the spread of the disease.

The plan consists of recommendations made by the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. The measures were not arrived at lightly.

“This is being done based on good science and what has been learned from other countries,” Gov. Herbert said.

The main thrust of the recommendations was to limit mass gatherings to less than 100, including church meetings, concerts and conferences. Since then, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since released a recommendation to limit gatherings to less than 50, and that was followed by a recommendation from the White House to limit gatherings to less than 10.

The duration is two weeks. The situation will be further evaluated after the time is up. Citizens are being encouraged to stay home when at all possible and avoid going out for unnecessary things.

Just a few days after the initial recommendations, another announcement was made saying Utah’s K-12 schools would have a “soft closure,” which would mean two weeks of students not attending class in person, and being kept home.

Although the initial statement by Herbert implied child care might be made available for those families with parents who both work, the Governor’s office has since retracted that statement and said no childcare will be made available by the schools or state of any kind.

The governor’s office says the soft closure is an important part of reducing the potential for community spread of COVID-19, but students will still retain access to school breakfast and lunch programs. Schools are working on at-home education plans to allow students to learn from their homes during the period of closure.

“This is a health issue,’’ said Gov. Herbert. “We want education to continue but we want to do it in a way that protects the health of the people of Utah.”

Per Utah code, a school dismissal (soft closure) means that students would be sent home, but facilities would be kept open and faculty and staff would be allowed to continue to work.

Last week the North Sanpete School District (NSSD) and South Sanpete School District (SSSD) met to address their plans to deal with the closure.

Teachers in both districts began preparing for online instruction on Monday, with the intention of starting online teaching Wednesday.

The One-for-One initiative in Sanpete County will allow the districts to use iPads for much of the distance learning. High school and middle school students already have assigned iPads to use, but the districts will handle the issuance of iPads to younger students for the duration of the soft closure.

In addition to the soft closure of local schools, the Utah High School Sports and Activities Association has suspended all spring sports and activities that involve a gathering of students, effectively ending the baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and track and field seasons before they really began.

Snow College initially planned on staying open until after Spring Break from March 23-27, but as the situation escalated, that was rescinded and classes were canceled as of March 16. The school is preparing to transition to fully online class work after the return from break.

“Snow College’s faculty and staff have rallied in the most remarkable ways and have been terrific problem-solvers during this challenging transition,” said Brad Cook, Snow president, in response to the pandemic. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I love being part of Badger Nation and we will get through this and be stronger for the effort.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an announcement of their own that all public gatherings for worship were to be temporarily suspended, including stake conferences, leadership conferences, sacrament meetings and branch ward and stake activities.

“We encourage members in their ministering efforts to care for one another. We should follow the Savior’s example to bless and lift others,” the Church said in their coronavirus press release. “We bear our witness of the Lord’s love during this time of uncertainty. He will bless you to find joy as you do your best to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in every circumstance.”

According to Nate Selin, director of the Central Utah Public Health Department, people should follow the recommendations, but they don’t need to stress out too much.

“Overall, the county is exceptionally well prepared for this situation,” Selin said. “We have been working for weeks with the local healthcare systems to train and prepare.”

Snow College faculty in a group COVID-19 planning meeting.

Selin said the training and organization that has been going on has prepared them for the possibility that COVID-19 comes to Sanpete County. They are prepared and ready to do screenings and dispense large amounts of medicine to the public, such as a vaccine, when and if one becomes available.

Selin also said it’s important to help prevent the overload of the local medical facilities by not showing up at the hospital, ER or medical clinics based on the assumption that you might be sick or symptomatic.

“You need to call ahead to your doctor or the hospitals and a medical professional will guide you through the process of getting tested, if needed, without risking infecting others,” he said.

Although the initial recommendations for social distancing are currently set for two weeks, Selin expects that period to be extended; but for now the public health officials are waiting to reevaluate when the two weeks is up.

Local hospitals are responding to the spread of the virus with new policies and training. Both Gunnison Valley Hospital (GVH) and Sanpete Valley Hospital (SVH) have been preparing for the new coronavirus for weeks with the help of the Central Utah Public Health Department.

“We know there is a lot of concern and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19,” said Brenda Bartholomew, Chief of Nursing at Gunnison Valley Hospital. “We’re committed to keeping our community healthy. For weeks we’ve been working closely with the Utah Department of Health to share information, monitor the status of the disease, and get ready for the expected spread of the virus in Utah.”

SVH is implementing new restrictions on visitation: only people seeking care for themselves should enter the hospital facility.

“We ask that everyone be helpful, calm and supportive of these important precautions at our hospital,” said Aaron Wood, SVH CEO. “The reason we are taking these extra precautions is in an effort to try and keep the number of people that could catch COVID-19 as low as possible.”

The new visitation restrictions might be offset in some ways with the recent introduction of telehealth by IHC, allowing people to use technology to visit with a medical professional. As the situation escalates, it is likely this method will become much more widespread in the Utah health system.

All Sanpete County senior centers are also being closed, until at least March 30, to reduce the risk of seniors contracting the virus.

Over the past week, retail locations—especially Walmart in Ephraim—have seen people flooding in the doors and buying bulk amounts of items out of fear of being quarantined without supplies. It started with items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes and bleach. After Thursday’s announcement from Gov. Herbert, the run on retail continued to spiral out of control until many of the shelves were emptied not long after they had been entirely restocked.

Customers at Walmart doing their regular shopping were reported to be shocked and upset that they couldn’t buy reasonable amounts of normal items as the buying frenzy continued. Diapers, milk, bread, cereal and more are all disappearing as quickly as they could be restocked, as there have been little to no limits placed on hoarding buyers.

Authorities are asking people to not panic and not to hoard food or other items, as it only adds to a sense of public hysteria in the face of the crisis.

You don’t have to look far to see direct examples of how the threat of COVID-19 and the new, stricter guidelines from the White House are both making an impact on Sanpete County businesses and individuals.

At Kalama’s Island Style, a Hawaiian eatery in Ephraim, the owners said they have been having problems getting the rice they need for their dishes. They typically buy 50 pound bags of rice, but they had to drive as far away as Richfield to find any.

At Cotiviti, a call center in Ephraim, they are making preparations to equip their workers for remote work to keep up with workloads if further restrictive measures are put in place.

At ACT in Gunnison, the supply of important materials from China has slowed due to the COVID-19 problem, and some jobs being offered at the company had to be removed until the materials can be reliably sourced.

Cory Madsen of Ephraim has been going through the application process for a union job as a mechanic for park vehicles in Yosemite National Park. Last week he drove there to visit the area and make an informed decision about the job, only to find upon arrival that the virus had caused a hiring freeze for the park.

“I need this virus to be done with,” said Madsen, who is also an avid photographer, hoping to capture some wildlife during his free time at the new position. “At this rate, the bears are going to wake up without me.”

On Monday, a source reported they had been let go from their restaurant job after Salt Lake County made a temporary ban on dining in at all eateries (Summit County did the same). When the source called to apply for unemployment, he found there were more than 145 people on hold in front of him.

Local governments are also scrambling to adjust to the problem. As of Tuesday, Manti, Ephraim, Fairview, Sterling, Mt. Pleasant and Fountain Green were all planning a two week closure of their city offices and facilities. Walk-in public traffic to city facilities in these areas will be restricted, but access to utility services and bill paying can be done online or via dropbox in most, if not all of them.

As of Tuesday, Centerfield, Moroni, Wales, Fayette and Gunnison all are either staying open for now, or are unconfirmed.

No immediate plans have been made for closure of the Sanpete County offices.

Although many organizations and municipalities are waiting to see how the situation will play out before canceling any big community events further than 2-3 weeks away, Manti City has announced the April 11 Easter egg hunt is now canceled. More announcements of cancellation will undoubtedly follow over the next few weeks.

Gunnison City has not made a final determination to close down the city building and other city facilities. For the time being, the Gunnison Valley Pool will stay open, but remain subject to additional sanitizing methods.

“It is sort of a fluid situation at the moment,” said Gunnison recorder Janell Braithwaite.

Universally across the county, youth sports and recreation programs have been suspended or postponed for a minimum of two weeks.

In the midst of the chaos and stress brought on by the influx of changes to daily life, some people and organizations are making an effort to respond to the new challenges with help.

Fairview-based telecom company Centracom is offering free internet service to families of school age children from now until May 31. Visit www.centracom.com for more information. Manti Telephone Company is working with the SSSD to help with internet connections during the soft school closure as well.

The Corner Station Deli and Co-op is offering a few ways to help ease the burden of feeding kids kept home from school. This week, with every adult meal purchase, you get a free kids meal as well. They are also doing delivery with no delivery fee, but minimum order amounts do apply. Curbside service is also being offered. It is likely similar offerings will become more commonplace during this time.

Facebook groups dedicated to unity among Sanpete residents are popping up meant to facilitate the sharing of hard to find items, or just offer help to neighbors and community during the duration of the social distancing and beyond. One such Facebook is “Sanpete Unity Page.”

First coronavirus case reported in Six-County area

By Robert Stevens

April 2, 2020

It’s here.

On Tuesday, the Central Utah Public Health Department (CUPHD) announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the health district that includes Sanpete County. The only problem was that there are six counties in the district, and CUPHD wouldn’t disclose where the confirmed individual lives. The health department cited HIPPA medical privacy laws as the reason for not narrowing down the area.

“We are only going to confirm that it is a resident of our health district at this time,” said Mike Grimlie, public information officer for the CUPHD.

The CUPHD includes Sanpete, Sevier, Juab, Millard, Piute and Wayne counties. Out of the six counties, Sanpete has the highest population with Sevier County next in line.

The confirmed case is a male over 60 years old. According to the CUPHD, he is currently recovering in his home. Officials at the CUPHD say he may have been exposed during travel outside the United States.

“The individual followed all the recommendations and protocols to limit exposure by using telemedicine to contact a doctor and coordinate testing with the facility,” said Nate Selin, CUPHD director. “We can’t stress how critical this is in protecting our healthcare workers and other members of the public. If you are symptomatic, we urge you to call your medical provider or hospital rather than just walking into a facility.”

According to health officials, the CUPHD is trying to figure out who the patient might have come into contact with, in order to encourage those people to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“As we expect to see more cases within our health district, we ask for the public’s help in limiting the spread of COVID-19 by adhering to social distancing practices, gathering limitations and personal hygiene as outlined in the governor’s directive,” Selin said.

More info can be found at centralutahpublichealth.org.

Sanpete seamstresses organize to stitch masks for first responders

By Robert Green

April 2, 2020

For a newly organized group of Sanpete County seamstresses, sewing cotton face masks makes everybody in the community feel a little safer.

The group, the Sanpete chapter of “Sewing for Life,” was just formed by organizer Gena Newton to sew and distribute supplemental masks to all the first responders in Sanpete County.

It is important to note, Newton said, that the home-sewn mask are used to preserve and extend the life of the government-approved N95 masks. They are 100 percent cotton washable masks that can be worn over the top of the N95 masks and thereby extend the life of the N95, she said.

The demand for the cotton masks, however, has exploded, even globally, Newton said. A group of about 50 volunteers has already produced about 1000 cotton masks and distributed them to many of the first responders in the Sanpete area.

And the call for more masks is just beginning, Newton said. “Because of the pandemic, there are not enough masks to cover all the people that need them,” she said. “I just delivered a bunch to the Sanpete County jail and they were so grateful and appreciative.”

Newton plans on making sure all of Sanpete County’s EMTs, firemen, policeman and other first responders are covered first. Then after that, Sewing for Life will continue to give masks to nursing homes and then to people on the front lines who work with the public every day. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” she said. “To get Sanpete covered; that’s my goal.”

So far, several local hospitals like Intermountain Health Care and University of Utah Hospital won’t take the masks, she said, but other hospitals from as far away as Hawaii said they would like to order some.

Sewing for Life has also brought people together in a common cause. Not only has the mask-making given people something to do, Newton said, but it helps them feel better about themselves.

It all started when Newton got a call from a co-worker at the Salt Lake Regional Hospital two weeks ago asking if she’d like to form a Sanpete County chapter of a mask-making group called “Sewing for Life.”

Newton, who worked in health care for much of her life, said she loved the idea and she immediately went to a local Facebook page called Sanpete Unity and posted a comment asking for volunteers to sew masks and others to donate fabric. “The response blew up,” Newton said.

Newton now sets up tables at the Ephraim Ball Park to sign up seamstresses and to accept donated materials. She sets the tables far apart and observes proper social distancing, she said.

“Some people sew about 20 masks a week; others do about five,” she said. “Everyone is doing what they can.”

Newton has also turned this project into a family affair; many of her 11 children and even her 76-year-old father help out with packing and distribution of the masks.

The Ephraim mother works as the merchandising manager at Dollar Tree; her family also owns and operates a food truck in the summer. And even though Newton is certainly busy, everyone has a little time to help out, even if they think they can’t, she said.

Utah has flattened curve, but must guard against new surge, Cox says

By Suzanne Dean

April 23, 2020

FAIRVIEW—Based on a widely-used University of Washington epidemiological model, the number of coronavirus cases in Utah should be peaking right now, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told the Sanpete Messenger Monday.

“We do feel like we’ve flattened the curve. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t get another surge,” Cox, head of the Utah Coronavirus Mitigation Task Force, told the paper in a telephone interview.

Cox said numbers show that during March and early April, each COVID-19 person had infected three others. That ratio has dropped to one positive individual infecting just one other.

The reason the state had to close so many things down and issue a stay-at-home directive was that when the coronavirus cropped up in March, there was no way to know how far it had spread, Cox said. So limits had to be imposed on everybody.

Cox said the state will begin moving this week on slow, methodical steps to restart economic activity. The steps will be paired with increased testing to identify people who have the virus, quarantine those people, trace their contacts and ask the contacts to self-isolate, Cox said.

A 28-page document released last Friday, April 17 titled “Utah Leads Together: Utah’s Plan for Health and Economic Recovery,” includes a color-coded chart outlining what activities will be allowed at different risk levels.

Cox said the Utah plan dovetails with the federal plan put out by President Trump.

The state has been at a “red,” level, which denotes high risk, he said. It is starting to move to “orange,” or moderate risk. After that, the state would move to “yellow” or low risk, followed by “green,” or normal risk. (See accompanying chart).

Cox said he expected Gov. Gary Herbert to announce resumption of some outpatient surgeries this week. Surgeries that qualify will be defined in guidelines from the Utah Hospital Association. That should help the health care system, especially rural hospitals, where revenues have plummeted because of restrictions on elective surgeries.

An Economic Response Task Force, chaired by Derek Miller, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, is due to report today (Thursday) on its first recommendations on opening up other sectors. The governor has one week to accept or reject the report, Cox said.

The next announcement, about May 1, is expected to address restaurants. Cox said he expected dine-in services to resume. “But it won’t be the same,” he cautioned. Tables will need to be 6 feet apart. Increased cleaning of surfaces will be required. “There will be more mask wearing.”

Between new Utah Health Department testing sites and private hospital groups such as Intermountain Healthcare, Utah has the capacity to test 5,000 people per day, Cox said.

The state is still short of being able to test everybody, “but we’re moving toward that,” he said.

The TestUtah program, developed with help from Silicon Slopes, starts with people going to a website, TestUtah.com.

Even so, he said, as activities resume and people start having more contacts with each other, “We do need to be prepared for an increase in total cases,” he said. “We are going to have to make some sacrifices to live with this disease until we have medical interventions and vaccinations.”

Finding ways to serve

By Doug Lowe

May 21, 2020

EPHRAIM—It was a great day for Sam Taylor, operations manager of Lashbrook Designs in Ephraim, when he could call all five of his furloughed employees with the good news that they should return to work ASAP because the PPP loan, applied for by the head office in Draper, had arrived.

But, when Taylor saw orders for the company’s award-winning rings—custom-made engagements, weddings, and other occasions—drop nearly 70 percent, he wanted to find some way to keep the recently returned employees productive.

Meanwhile up in Draper, the company’s founder, Eric Laker, and his brother, Matthew had been grappling with the same problem and decided that all their under-utilized employees should be offered as volunteer to non-profit organizations and governmental units.

So, Taylor called the city of Ephraim and offered a crew of volunteers. Gratefully, Chad Perry, the city’s public works director, tasked the Lashbrook volunteers to sod the cemetery. When that project was completed, Tayor asked for another assignment, but when one wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he drove around town and identified task he and his staff could possibly do.

After receiving a “go ahead” from Perry, the Lashbrook team weeded and cleaned up the Ephraim sports complex and surrounding area; then, moved on to weed and clean Canyon View Park and its environs.

Four employees from the Ephraim operation of Lashbrook Designs—pictured left to right: Stephen Kent, Jacob Huffman, Tia Boudreaux and Brach Schlueter—began their day as volunteer trash collectors at Manti’s shooting range. By day’s end, the diligent team, along with their boss, Sam Taylor, had accumulated an impressive mound that filled an entire municipal dump truck.

Next, Taylor contacted Cory Hatch, Manti’s public works director, who came up with more than half a dozen projects the volunteers could help with. Those included: weeding and cleaning up the garden/water feature on the corner of Main and Union; weeding and clearing out all the metal grates around Main Street’s many trees; weeding and cleaning up the Flagpole garden on the NE side of the cemetery; weeding and clearing along the entry to the SW side of the cemetery; and, weeding and cleaning up Pioneer Park.

It is likely, at least in Hatch’s opinion, that the greatest achievement of the Lashbrook Design crew was gathering up all the garbage left all around the town’s gun range. By the time they were finished, an entire dump truck has been filled with the trash they had collected.

Taylor has hopes that, work load permitting, he and his co-workers can eventually work their volunteer magic further north, in Spring City and Mt. Pleasant. But, that plan all depends on what the future brings in the coronavirus era.

Sensible citizen response has kept coronavirus in check


By Suzanne Dean, Publisher

July 23, 2020

The Sanpete Messenger staff in the newspaper office wearing their masks. From left are Suzanne Dean, publisher; Lloyd Call, associate publisher; Rhett Wilkinson, staff writer; Robert Stevens, managing editor; and Karen Christensen, office manager.

On the whole, I’ve been gratified at the response in Sanpete County to the coronavirus pandemic.

People here seem to understand that when public health is at stake, we all have to do our part, even if that means some temporary limitations on personal freedom.

When the governor released his stay-at-home guidelines in March, nearly all businesses, banks, government offices and restaurant complied. That’s probably why Sanpete County got through several weeks without a single case.

Now that our county has gone to yellow, most restaurants, fitness facilities and office-type businesses have reopened, although some banks invite people in only by appointment and McDonald’s, a nationally affiliated restaurant, has not opened its dining room.

That doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. Yes, Sanpete has only had 85 cases, which is within the range where contact tracing and getting people who have been exposed quarantined is possible. But cases have been spiking along the Wasatch Front. That’s not far away at all.

One thing that is concerning is that 50 percent of cases in the Six-County health district have been people under 45 years old. The age cohort the most cases is the 25-to-44-year-olds, with 103 cases.

I have to ask, “Aren’t these people taking corona virus seriously? Are they socializing, recreating and working with others without social distancing?”

In the past three months, research has established something that wasn’t clear when the coronavirus broke out in the United States—face masks have a huge effect in preventing the spread of the virus.

When the Sanpete Messenger staff talked about coming back to the office after working from home for three months, some people were fearful. The main fear was someone who had the virus walking in our office and exposing one of us.

I decided to put a sign up on our door telling visitors we appreciate them wearing a mask if possible. And I pledged that our staff of five would wear masks when waiting on customers and when on assignment. I’m extending that to whenever we are in the community, on or off the job, in locations where we are in contact with other people.

I really appreciate stores such as Maverick, where everyone on staff wears a mask at all times and where social distancing markers have been set up throughout. I totally support Walmart in its new requirement that all customers wear masks while shopping in the store.

The other day I was in a grocery store where most of the clerks were not wearing masks. I went through a check stand where the cashier was wearing a mask. “I sure appreciate you wearing a mask,” I told her.

“No problem,” she said. “I’m going to have to wear at high school next year, so I decided I needed to get used to it.”

What a difference, what a display of civic responsibility, compared to the parents (without masks) who packed a meeting in Utah County protesting a requirement that their children wear masks to school next year. The meeting itself could have been a “spreader” event.

Please, let’s all listen to our governor and our health experts, keep this terrible disease within bounds here in the county, and yes, wear our masks.

Speakers at anti-mask rally claim mandates infringe on freedom, harm economy

By Ben Lasseter

October 1, 2020

MANTI—A “freedom rally” brought a large crowd of local residents and attendees from out of town to Manti City Park last week to protest government mask mandates.

The crowd of nearly 250, not a single one wearing a mask, stood and sat in lawn chairs facing the park stage; they were surrounded by trees and vending booths. Up on stage, speakers declared that mask mandates were unconstitutional and renounced officials for causing churches to close and creating economic burdens.
Audience members enjoyed breezy weather and entertainment between speeches, including karaoke performances and parodies. Some sat close to the stage and cheered often, while others observed casually from afar.

Jacob Isbell and Spencer Dierenfeldt of Davis County, both of whom had assault rifles slung over their backs throughout the evening, performed the national anthem.

Isbell is the same person who played a key role in organizing the “Trash the Mask” event at the Utah State Capitol on Sept. 5. that brought out 1,500 people, as well as events in Orem and Provo that attracted over 1,000 each.

He played electric guitar and served as master of ceremonies for the Manti rally. Between speakers, Isbell kept up the energy of the crowd, put on a dance competition and gave away gift certificates.

The freedom rally was “a gathering against the lockdown measures that have made it so that people are not allowed to show their faces,” Isbell said.

He said masks can be a tool the government can use to control people. He said that if the government can force people to wear masks, it can coerce them to submit to more consequential directives.

Singer Spencer Dierenfeldt of Sanpete County, who sang the national anthem at last week’s “freedom rally” in Manti, runs the sound system with an assault rifle over his back. Ed Kennedy, a write-in candidate for Utah governor, addresses the crowd.

“If the cowards [who] are willing to live as docile tax-cattle in other countries want to live that way, that’s their prerogatives,” Isbell said. “This is a gathering of people who put their faith in God, not their faith in the government.”

Keynote speaker Eric Moutsos, a former Salt Lake City police officer who was put on administrative leave and later resigned after refusing to patrol the annual LGBT pride parade in Salt Lake, said the actions American officials had taken showed they did not “understand the role of government.”

Keynote speaker Eric Moutsos speaks to the crowd about his decision to leave the Salt Lake City police force after he was placed on administrative leave in 2013 and how it relates to his stance on mask mandates.

“We were created to be together maskless,” he said.

Another speaker, YouTube personality Tyce Chamberlain warned against “FEAR,” which stands for “false evidence appearing real.” He also said “NEWS” stands for “nothing ever worth sharing.” He brought the acronyms up in reference to information issued by government authorities and disseminated by the media reporting the new coronavirus is continuing to spread.

Most speakers came from out of town. But one speaker, Caleb Mitsvotai, was from Manti. He talked about freedom making life enjoyable. He said humans have been given the discretion to choices that could hurt them, such as when Adam ate the forbidden fruit in the biblical story.

Comments from the podium gave the impression that people are being forced to wear masks. That isn’t universally true. In Sanpete County, everyone in schools must wear masks, and many businesses require or encourage them. But there are no ordinances, nor any fines or other sanctions for failing to wear a mask in public.

As of now, Summit, Salt Lake and Utah counties have mask orders issued by mayors or the local health department. Speakers warned that precedents set in these counties could lead to police issuing fines or arresting people for not wearing masks or social distancing in the rest of the state.

However, even in counties that have emergency mask orders, masks are not compulsory. The Utah County public health order that instructs people to cover their faces in public says it will not be “enforced with criminal punishment.” A Utah County sheriff’s sergeant said officers are responding to infractions with education not punishment.

In Salt Lake County, according to the Deseret News, no individuals had received citations, and just two orders have been issued to specific businesses as of last week.

In yellow-phase regions, including Manti and the rest of Sanpete County, officials advise people to wear masks in public and keep groups to fewer than 20. Last week’s anti-mask rally in Manti defied both of the guidelines.

One couple who remained well behind the crowd at the Manti rally were Wes and Ellen Arnoldson, who saw the event from their house across the street and walked over to see what was happening. They said they supported the theme of freedom, but not using freedom as a justification to “complain” about having to wear masks.

T-shirts for sale at a vendor tent at the Manti “freedom rally”

“I’m not in agreement with all of this,” Wes Arnoldson said. “If one person in there has COVID, how many others are gonna get COVID?”

“The numbers are rising in our state, and it makes me nervous when you go places,” Ellen Arnoldson said. She also said Isbell’s assault rifle made him appear to “want to be combative.”

On the day of the freedom rally, Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, announced cases were spiking in 12 of Utah’s 13 health districts, including the six counties served by the Central Utah Public Health Department (CUPHD).

Despite the recent surge, some attendees who spoke to the Messenger believed the event posed no danger. “Fresh air and sunshine kills viruses; there’s no chance of getting it outside,” said Tami Privett of Manti, who helped to organize the event.

Privett said she supported the cause because she felt it was wrong to make children wear masks in schools. She claimed masks caused staph and sinus infections and that “kids can’t spread the virus.” She said it was time to focus on the economy, something she accused major media companies of trying to destroy.

A visitor from Provo brought an umbrella with messages to support her cause—a referendum to end the mask mandate in her city.

A visitor at the rally from Provo argued people should not have to change their lifestyles to protect people who have underlying conditions and are more likely than healthy people to die from the virus.

“There’s a bigger agenda behind this,” the visitor said, echoing statements the government is asserting too much power. She carried an umbrella decorated with American flags and a sign that accused “mainstream media” of “censoring the truth the way the Nazis did.”

On his Facebook page, Isbell shared that the Facebook organization had censored some of his posts, including a public comment on Aug. 22 that read, “Utahns are ready to kill the traitors in power.”

Ray Keller of Spring City said he disagreed with some claims made about the Constitution but agreed that the government had overreached. He said if he lived a more urban lifestyle, rather than working from home and homeschooling his children, he would have more concerns over the pandemic.

“I believe everyone has a right to life, and if someone else feels threatened by me being there without a mask, I would take that seriously,” he said.

Cousins Adam and Aidan Compton of Moroni also said they did not wear masks in their daily lives, which seldom involved interacting with large groups.          .

“I don’t like the way they feel, I don’t like the way they constrict your breathing, but mostly I don’t like being made to do things,” Adam Compton said.

Aidan Compton said he would feel more compelled to cover his face in public if he believed the virus threat to be more severe. “If I felt like I was affecting other people’s health, I would probably be more likely to wear one,” he said.

Many statements made from the stage or by participants interviewed during the rally were not consistent with what scientific authorities have said repeatedly about the virus.

A Sept. 18 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contradicts the claim that children cannot infect others. It found that at least 12 children under the age of 10 acquired COVID-19 in Salt Lake City child facilities and spread it to other children and family members.

Nathan Selin, executive director of the CUPHD, said he had heard of no evidence that masks cause health problems. He said while coronavirus is much less likely to spread outdoors than indoors, it does happen.

Selin said people in Sanpete County and statewide should exercise caution for others’ sake if not their own.

“Inevitably, we all come into contact with individuals that are high-risk,” many of whom could live many more years without catching coronavirus, Selin said. “It’s our responsibility to protect those who are at high risk of dying.”

Although many at the Manti rally believed people could stop the virus from spreading by simply staying home when they felt sick, Selin said an estimated 20 percent of people who contract the virus never show symptoms. Yet they remain contagious for up to 14 days and during that time can and often do infect others.

Aside from patients who had died, Selin said some central Utahns had suffered long-term illness and loss of taste or smell. He said after less than a year of research, it is still unclear who is at risk of long-term respiratory complications from COVID-19.

On Friday at 6 p.m., there will be another freedom rally at the Utah County Courthouse in Provo with Isbell and Moutsos as the key organizers and speakers.

Jacob Isbell (left) and Spencer Dierenfeldt of Davis County carried assault rifles for the duration of the “freedom rally” at Manti City Park. Isbell was the emcee of the event. The duo performed The Star Spangled Banner.

COVID-19 hits home

Numbers can't capture the suffering, loss families experience

By Rhett Wilkinson

November 25, 2020

COVID-19 has hit Sanpete County hard.

Through Nov. 19, there have been 887 cases since the pandemic began, including 247 in the nine days from Nov. 10-19 and 414 cases in 18 days from Nov. 1-19, according Nathan Selin, director of the Central Utah Public Health Department.

But numbers don’t tell the story of how the virulent virus has affected individual lives. In one Moroni family, a husband and wife were hospitalized. The wife’s father of Mt. Pleasant was also hospitalized. Both the wife and her father died.

In Manti, a husband and wife both got the virus, and the husband was hospitalized. In Gunnison, a teenager who got the virus says she loves food but couldn’t taste it anymore. In Ephraim, a professor, who was considered one of the most cautious people on the Snow College campus, caught the virus.

In Longview, Texas, the owner of a business with operations in Gunnison died.

Several of the COVID-19 victims or their relatives who were interviewed by the Sanpete Messenger said COVID-19 precautions need to be followed.

Lindsay Wootton of Logan, who lost her mother and grandfather, and whose father was also stricken, has been on the NBC Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CNN, HLN, CBS This Morning and National Public Radio.

Wootton’s mother, Tracy, who lived in Moroni, died on Oct. 29, while her grandfather Bert Porter of Mt. Pleasant died on Oct. 11. Wootton’s father, Chad Larsen of Moroni, was also hospitalized but is out now. But he is still having effects from the disease.

Lindsay Wootton says goodbye to her mother, Tracy Larsen, who died of COVID-19.

Tracy Larsen spent 46 days in Utah Valley Regional Medical Center (UVRMC). Her husband, Chad, was in for 48 days, and Tracy’s father, Porter, was in two different hospitals for a total of 40 days.

During Tracy’s hospitalization, her daughter says, she yelled out in pain and was gasping for air. Her breathing was so hard, her whole body lifted off her bed.

Wootton talked with her mother for hours every day, sometimes in multiple phone calls. She called her mother every morning after taking her daughter to school. “We could spend hours on the phone, shooting the breeze,” Wootton said.

“Now on the drive home (from school), I just cry,” Wootton said.

“I was proven wrong not just once, but twice.”

—Lindsay Wootton, who thought COVID-19 was like getting the flu and later lost her mother and grandfather to the coronavirus

Wootton slept at UVRMC 18 nights while her mother was hospitalized. But Tracy only saw her husband four times and her father just twice while she was in the hospital.

On Oct. 29, Tracy’s family was told that she had taken a turn for the worse with the muscles in her abdomen and chest becoming too weak. It was as if Tracy had run a three-week marathon without any breaks. She didn’t make it through the day.

During Porter’s hospitalization, he was transferred to from Utah Valley Medical to the Utah Valley Specialty Hospital, a freestanding hospital specializing in acute care, with the goal of rehabilitating his lungs.

Various types of therapies were administered. What took his life, his granddaughter said, was aspirating into his oxygen mask. When that happened, he got aspiration pneumonia.

Early in the pandemic, Tracy didn’t believe the coronavirus was a serious problem. She believed getting COVID-19 was like getting the flu. She teased her mother about wearing a mask.

“I was proven wrong not just once, but twice,” she said.

Wootton wishes people opposing COVID-19 precautions would listen to health care providers. “The governor and politicians are not asking to take away others’ freedoms,” she said. “When I wear a mask, it is to protect someone else, not just to protect me.”

It’s worth limiting who we see during the holidays, she said, in order to have future holidays with family members.

Claire and Reid Cox of Manti both caught the coronavirus. Two days before Claire’s quarantine ended, Reed was admitted to UVRMC.

“I never dreamed it would hit my husband so hard that he would end up in the hospital,” Claire said. “Because he’s quite a healthy guy, honestly.”

Claire’s symptoms began when she had “a little bit of a headache” and sore throat. Things got worse, however. “I was to work (on a) Monday and by Thursday, I could not smell,” she  said.

Reid got a fever that got up to 103.8 degrees one day. “If he stood up, he would cough and cough and cough,” Claire said.

She said that on Monday, Nov. 16, after getting up to go to the bathroom, Reid told her, “I think I’m dying.”

“Are you serious?” Claire replied.

“I need help,” Reid said.

Claire called UVRMC to see if they had room. She was instructed to take Reid to the entrance. She got her husband to the hospital at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17. “He could barely stand up,” she said. “He went in with his pajamas on, a robe and his phone, and that was all.

“They told me that if he had not been low on oxygen and not had the fever … they would not have admitted him. There’s a certain criteria.”

As of last Friday, Nov. 20, the medical staff was trying to get the virus to quit growing in his lungs. Claire asked a nurse how many people they have seen at the stage Reid is at still recover. “They said, ‘Actually, quite a few,’” Claire said.

Before her husband got the virus, he was “quick to say this is this is so blown out of proportion—it’s so political,” Claire said. “I haven’t asked him what he thinks now, but we know firsthand that this is not a hoax, that it is real.”

“Every day, I was bragging that we didn’t have any issues in Sanpete County,” she said. “Before long it starts creeping in here … I’d always feel safer here than in Orem and now you can’t be safe anywhere.”

“Everyday, I was bragging that we didn’t have any issues in Sanpete County…. Before long it starts creeping in here… I’d always feel safer here than in Orem, and now you can’t be safe anywhere.”

—Claire Cox (right), whose husband, Reid (left), was hospitalized with the coronavirus

She added, “I just appreciate everyone in our community…that has shown their love and care.”

She noted when Susan and Mike Barclay heard they were sick, Susan made soup and Mike brought groceries. Michelle Hatch picked up a prescription and paid for it.

Emily Johnson of Gunnison, a senior at Gunnison Valley High School, tested positive for the virus and had to quarantine through last Thursday, Nov. 19.

The worst part, she said, was not being able to taste because she loves food. Not being able to taste meant that she lost motivation to eat, she said.

For Emily, only the first day was “super rough.” She had a high fever and slept all day as well as the next day.

While quarantined, Emily stayed in her room with her cat and video-chatted with four friends who were also in quarantine.

While her quarantine period was officially over, Emily didn’t go to school last Friday, Nov. 20 and considered remaining at home through Thanksgiving break.

Dr. Paul Gardner, a biology professor at Snow College, tested positive for the coronavirus and went into quarantine last week.

Back on Nov. 11, Gardner took a brisk walk in fairly cold weather. He started coughing. He popped a cough drop in his mouth and kept going. But he started to think his condition was more than bronchitis. He was right.

Even though students tell him he is the most cautious person they know on-campus, he said, by Saturday, Nov. 14, he had received the word from his doctor: He was positive.

Gardner said he has been “sleeping like a cat”—as much as 20 hours per day. But he’s still keeping up with his teaching load by delivering his lectures virtually from his upstairs office in his home.

Snow College has a mask mandate, he said, but a lot of students take their masks off when they walk outside and sometimes inside, he said. And he said he hasn’t seen anybody coming out of Maverik in Ephraim with a mask on.

“Which is crazy,” Gardner said. “I don’t understand what’s happening in this country. “Scientists are attacked. I feel like I’m not in the same country I grew up in.”

Sam Satterwhite of Longview, Texas owned Satterwhite Log Homes in Gunnison, one of the national company’s three sites. Satterwhite visited Gunnison a few times each year. His company donated to community causes. In 2014, the Six County Association of Governments chose Satterwhite as the Sanpete County Business of the Year.

Satterwhite, who had Type 1 diabetes, died on Saturday, Nov. 14, in Longview of COVID-19. He was a few days shy of his 69th birthday.

“Words fail to justly describe the person Sam was,” his obituary said. “He was a loving son, devoted husband, amazing father, legendary Papa, brother, uncle, cousin, father-in-law and friend. He was a visionary and true servant…. He enriched the lives of everyone he knew.”

Satterwhite’s daughter, Christi Satterwhite Amos, said Satterwhite loved his employees. “It’s hard to describe. It wasn’t like a boss-employee relationship, your standard relationship. They loved him. They cared about him.”

Correspondingly, she said, “If they got sick, [he] gave them what they needed. They were family.”

Amos said taking COVID-19 precautions is about saving lives. “I wish that the person that my dad got it from had had a mask on. And that my dad had had a mask on,” she said. If they had, she said, things might be different.

She acknowledges people are “sick of quarantine,” but “sometimes it does take something life-altering” to alter opinions about something, she said.

“[COVID-19] may not affect everybody the same way, but there is enough of the population that we need to protect,” she said.