SALT LAKE CITY — Especially after a record-high 1,411 new cases of COVID-19 in Utah, doctors are studying specific trends that trouble them the most.
The largest spike in cases was in the 15-24 age group, a demographic that previously seemed to contract COVID-19 less frequently than people age 25-44.
Dr. Jared Johnstun of St. Mark's Hospital said he believes the recent spike in cases can be attributed to the large number of students who have returned to the classroom for in-person learning.
"Those young people, they live with older people!" Johnstun said. "They don’t seem to be overly concerned about their personal illness."
Biggest recent spike in Utah is in the 15-24 age range.— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) September 26, 2020
Many doctors say they believe this is due to the large number of children who have returned to the classroom.
Overall, the 25-44 age range still has more total COVID-19 cases from the beginning of the pandemic until now. https://t.co/cI6J2BjB3H pic.twitter.com/28T79BHXRK
Although the number of hospitalizations and deaths did not reach record highs on Friday, some Utah doctors predict more bad news in the next couple weeks as the latest batch of patients battle the virus.
"The spike in cases that we’re seeing will turn into a spike in hospitalizations and ultimately a spike in deaths," Johnstun said. "(COVID-19) will wipe out the biggest and the strongest of humans."
Although the numbers are troublesome, there are plenty of patients whose stories cannot be reflected by statistics alone.
"I’ve taken care of a lot of people with COVID that have survived but are going to be debilitated for the rest of their life," Johnstun said.
Stan Ellsworth, a former NFL linebacker and host of BYUtv's American Ride, is still on oxygen after being diagnosed with the virus in May.
He believes he caught the virus after pleading with his wife to let him take care of her. She only had minor symptoms.
"It killed me. I was just about dead," Ellsworth said. "It’s not a joke! I’m telling you, it’s not a joke guys. I was a big, strong, strapping lad. I really was. I could do just about anything. This disease knocked me to my knees!"
Ellsworth admits he previously underestimated the virus, but now he scoffs at anyone who claims wearing a mask is a symbol of sacrificing personal liberties.
He said he believes all students should be tested for COVID-19, including student athletes.
"If Tommy Jones comes down to play his tuba and Tommy’s got the disease then little Tommy Tuba — he’s making everybody sick!" Ellsworth said. "We live in a new normal now."
Johnstun, who also played football in college, said he believes high school and college sports have increased the risk for community spread.
"When you’re breathing deep and coughing or gasping like those big guys do when they’re down in the trenches, those are going to be respiratory secretions and aerosolized secretions," Johnstun said. "If there’s COVID in there, the chance of spreading it goes up pretty significantly."
Marty Hoge, the father of BYU offensive lineman Tristen Hoge, shared a video message on Twitter to inform people his son had been diagnosed with both COVID-19 and pneumonia, which "affected his lungs severely."
"You’ve got to take it serious. This world has got to take it serious,” Marty Hoge said. "Don’t take for granted what you’ve got in your good health. Do the smart things. Social distance. Wear your mask. Don’t get upset when you can’t go watch a game when you can watch it on television. These kids have got to be smart... Health (is) more important than football."
Cougar Nation!! We’ve got to take COVID-19 serious! #nojoke #wearyourmask#scary @BYUfootball @CindyHoge @CriddleBenjamin @Mitch_Harper @kslsports @InkedCougar @HogeTristen @royalarmybrand pic.twitter.com/UMvKgQEN62— Marty Hoge (@martyhoge) September 24, 2020
Johnstun said he hopes persistent safety messages are somehow able to reach some of the most vocal opponents of masks and vaccines.
"It will take them seeing someone get sick and die from it. It will take them to see what this virus does and how it ravages the body for them to believe," Johnstun said. "Some people will never believe, because they don’t see that. They’ll be lucky. The people that see it will very quickly change their opinion."