Parachute officer shares personal struggle with COVID-19

June 25, 2020

As 42-year-old Police Sergeant Justin Mayfield walks around his garage, you can hear heavy breathing, an indication of the shortness in his breath that still persists 14 weeks after his bout with COVID-19.

“There is still so much we don’t know about how long the aftereffects of the illness last. I still get worn out just getting up to get something, or doing a trivial task in the garage. I’m getting better every day, but I’m not back to where I was pre-COVID.”

Mayfield knew he was coming down with something a few days after returning from a training in Eagle County in early March of 2020, when the COVID pandemic was just beginning to take root there. Following the training, Mayfield went back to work as usual, but three days later he began to feel sick. On the fourth day, his wife and teenage son also began to feel ill. “I believe the training may have been where I picked it up. You just don’t know.” said Mayfield.

Both Mayfield and his son knew that something was wrong when their senses of smell and taste became ‘off.’ “We had just purchased fresh chicken and when I smelled it, I thought it smelled completely terrible like it had gone bad. My son came in and said that dinner smelled rotten.” Loss of taste is a commonly reported symptom of the illness.

After visiting Grand River Health, Mayfield received a letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that said he had tested positive for COVID-19, and needed to isolate. His wife and son were presumed to be positive for the virus.

“It was one of the most unique experiences. You cough so dang hard your back gets worn out and it hurts every muscle in your body,” Mayfield said.

The family members all reported a dry hacking cough, feeling run down and lethargic. Justin’s wife Jamie ran a low-grade fever for 13 consecutive days. Their son Alistair slept for most of the day. Mayfield joked, “he slept even more than is typical for a normal 17-year-old kid.”

The family stayed in isolation for the full recommended two weeks, but even three weeks later the virus was still affecting them. “There was one day in the middle I felt better,” said Mayfield “but the next day it was back.”

“I experienced weird body aches like knives stabbing my foot one day and the next day it was in my shoulder. My wife had a chest x-ray and the physician said it looked like “COVID lung” and there were two spots of pneumonia beginning to form.”

The family knew how quickly the virus could become serious and purchased a pulse oximeter to monitor their heart rates and oxygen levels. “We were watching and if it dropped, we were going to the ER,” said Mayfield. “We didn’t want to take any chances. It got close. It was in the low nineties.”

The American Lung Association considers 95 to 97 percent normal, and anything below 90 percent a reason to go to the emergency room. “We were also watching our heart rates. Our resting heart rates would be at 60 beats per minute and jump to 125 or 145 just getting a glass of water from the kitchen.”

After the illness, Mayfield tested positive for COVID antibodies. “I have the COVID antibodies, and though I don’t have to wear a mask now, when I’m at work I usually do,” he said. “I’m trying to lead by example. We want to go back to normal and handwashing and social distancing seem to be the key to doing that.”

Responding to those who are reluctant to take COVID precautions, Mayfield offers, “It is frustrating to hear people blow it off. It is real and it is very serious. Find someone who has it and spend a night with them, and then see how real it is the next day. Come hang out with me and you will realize it’s not made up.”

Mayfield admitted that in the past he and his wife often tried to tough out illnesses, going to work if possible. “We have learned, don’t try to power through. That is how you are going to infect everybody. We were those people, don’t be those people.”

Mayfield acknowledged that had schools not closed before springs break, his wife who is a teacher, would likely have gone to work and unknowingly infected kids at school who in turn could have infected their families.

The CDC, and health experts point to four simple strategies to fight the virus, staying home when sick, wearing a personal face covering, maintaining social distancing and practicing good personal hygiene. Staying home in isolation for those who are sick, and quarantine for those that feel they have been exposed is critical.

Sergeant Mayfield will share his personal experience with COVID in a live-stream Friday, June 26, at 10:30 a.m. on the City of Glenwood Springs Facebook page. Joining him will be public health epidemiology nurse Sara Brainard to discuss the changing COVID landscape, data trends, and the contact tracing process.

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