In late 2017, a Utah medical officer said there were more cases of a serious respiratory illness in students than in any other area, but blamed the trend on a test-taking schedule and a culture of wellness at Davis High School.
The director of communicable disease prevention with the Utah Department of Health made the comment at the time after seeing a spike in reported cases of chronic lung disease — viral respiratory illness called influenza type B — in students at Davis High School.
Three students reportedly died from respiratory illness before the school year started.
“If you look at student mortality, you get sicker before you die because you are not getting medical care. And that’s one of the things that were observed in those kids,” said medical officer Daniel Varga.
Varga also said that he suspected the problem was part of a broader trend of developing cases in Utah.
However, Davis High School proceeded with the long-planned plan to open its new building, which had been removed from previous plans for years. According to documents obtained by Fox 13 News, the school “may not be the only district where health officials are seeing a rise in cases.”
The school district also claimed that they weren’t at fault for building the school under those conditions. “This was a part of a much larger master plan developed for the entire district in 2013, and which was put in place to start meeting the ever-growing enrollment and the new facilities as of August 2014,” a district spokesperson said in a statement.
In retrospect, Davis has been the second-worst-hit district in Utah in terms of fatalities from coronavirus. In 2012, two children and six adults died from severe respiratory illness that had been contracted in Davis.
In 2017, three students were reported to have contracted a similar respiratory illness at another Utah high school. Ultimately, the new building also started operating with a virus-related bug that left students ill, according to a timeline from the National Journal.
In late September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that schools across the country had been sending kids home from school while others were carrying a dangerous respiratory virus.
According to the CDC, the virus was responsible for more than a dozen deaths across 15 states. The agency believes that the virus was responsible for a total of at least 65 additional illnesses and 380 hospitalizations during that week.
In 2018, 14 cases of coronavirus were reported in 12 states, according to the CDC. Another 11 cases were reported at the University of California, Los Angeles, after 11 students had the virus.
School districts that have spoken out about the virus include Tacoma, Wash., Des Moines, Iowa, and Long Beach, Calif.
However, the CDC has said that schools cannot contain the virus on their own.
“It’s a disease that affects people in close contact, and people in close contact of people like kids can have a really high chance of having it in them and developing symptoms,” Dr. Jennifer Shu said.
The new virus was found in the same virus family as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which remains the leading cause of death of humans infected with it. The virus is similar to the seasonal flu but far more deadly. In the United States, half of those infected die from the virus, according to CDC statistics.
This year, the United States has seen the largest outbreak of the virus to date. The CDC has also reported that the disease has been widespread throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America.
Andy Ruf, who works for an international cancer company in Bountiful, was diagnosed with the virus in June. He is not among the four reported deaths in Utah. However, he has been in the hospital for weeks, left with open sores and struggling to walk without assistance.
“In the beginning, I thought, ‘How am I going to pull this off?’” he said. “And at the moment I thought that ‘I’m going to be all right’ and ‘I’m going to get well’ and ‘If it comes back, I’ll get better and get back to work.’”