A year after Glenwood Springs resident Dani Ott became the first person in Garfield County to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, her battle isn’t over.
“I’m still on heart and lungs medications, but I’m doing better this month,” Ott said last week of the lingering effects she still experiences to this day.
At 33 when she was diagnosed (now 34), Ott, an asthma sufferer, was in that “high-risk” category when the novel coronavirus made its first documented appearance in the Roaring Fork Valley.
On March 14, 2020, about two weeks after attending a concert at a club in Aspen — where she met a group of Australian tourists who ended up being the first in Pitkin County to test positive — she was advised by Garfield County Public Health that she, too, had tested positive for COVID-19.
She had been symptomatic for several days, but it took a while to finally get in to Valley View Hospital to be tested in those early days when the availability of test kits was very limited.
“I remember being the sickest I’ve ever felt for about two weeks,” Ott said in a video-recorded public service announcement in early December that was posted to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ Facebook page.
Even today, she experiences a regular cough, shortness of breath and a related heart issue. After a recent change in medications, she said she feels like she’s finally turned a corner.
Ott is one of the so-called “long haulers” — those who contracted a symptomatic case of COVID-19 and still have lingering effects months, or in her case, a year later.
Since her diagnosis, another 5,300 Garfield County residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the resulting disease, COVID-19, was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.
Many, maybe even a majority, of those cases have been mild or without symptoms at all, public health officials have said.
However, nationally between 10% and 30% of those who contracted COVID-19 report lingering symptoms.
“Some people are extremely affected by the long-term effects, and I’d probably say that was unexpected,” Josh Vance, epidemiologist for neighboring Pitkin County, told the Aspen Times.
Ott said her doctors have been up front with her that she could continue to experience the post-COVID-19 effects for a while.
“I still have a hard time breathing and some inflammation in my lungs still,” said Ott, who ended up in the emergency room a couple of times and missing work since her initial bout with the disease.
When the wildfires broke out last summer, it was especially bad, she said.
“My doctors have been really good about doing research and helping with my particular case,” she said. “We’re very lucky up here to have doctors who are proactive and listen.”
Even though she is eligible for a vaccine, Ott said she has not gotten one yet — preferring to defer to older residents, teachers and other front-line workers, she said.
In her video PSA in December, just as the pre-holiday surge in new COVID-19 cases came, Ott encouraged people to continue to wear masks and practice the usual public health precautions.
Watch Dani Ott’s video testimonial:
Juan Carlos Alvarado and his family, of Glenwood Springs, were among those to contract COVID-19 during the December surge as Garfield County moved from orange- to red-level restrictions on the state dial.
“We were quarantined for the last two weeks of December, over Christmas,” Alvarado said, a local painter, adding he’s not sure where the family came in contact with the virus — a classic case of community spread.
He said his wife, Nohelia, was the first to test positive, and the rest of the family followed suit. He said he didn’t believe her when she said she couldn’t taste the soup he made one day. Loss of taste and smell is one of the COVID-19 symptoms.
A couple of days later a friend made a special cheese bread pastry for him. He, too, realized he had lost his tasting ability.
“I was still hungry and ate it,” he said. “I just couldn’t taste it.”
Eventually, the couple’s three children, including their college-age daughter who was home for the holiday, tested positive. One of the kids had a fever, but it was short-lived. The others did not have symptoms, he said.
Alvarado, 38, has a hyper-thyroid condition so he, too, worries about the potential longer-term effects.
“I have a little anxiety about that,” he said. “I also noticed my legs were hurting more.”
Marc Bruell of Carbondale is a ski instructor in Snowmass but also isn’t sure where he contracted the virus earlier this year. In any case, he went by the playbook when he began feeling symptoms and then tested positive on Feb. 11.
He wore a mask in the house and quarantined in his room for the most part, and even put a towel under the door to limit air flow. His wife and daughter never got it, he said.
“I just feel super lucky,” Bruell said. “When I tell people I was sick and had [COVID-19], I add that it’s absolutely a big deal, and people need to take it seriously.”
Bruell said he had a persistent cough but not too bad. He had a slight headache, but no fever, though he did experience night sweats and still has a hard time sleeping at night.
He also experienced the loss of taste to some degree. He said he could taste salt and sweet, but everything else was bland.
At age 58, Bruell said he looks forward to this Friday when state officials have said they will open up the vaccine priority group to those over age 50.