Coronavirus / COVID-19

Utah couple comes through COVID-19 with a greater appreciation for community

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A long-awaited three-week vacation between seasons at Ballet West for boyfriends Lucas Horns and Josh Shutkind ended with a trip to the hospital, a COVID-19 diagnosis, and two weeks of complete quarantine.

“After finishing our run of Giselle in Salt Lake, we were given a three-week layoff before the spring season,” Shutkind said. “Whenever we get time off, I always try to sneak back to New York City to see my family. Bringing Lucas with me has been such a treat. My family adores him and I’m lucky to call my mom our biggest fan and the best guide of New York City.”

“We started dating about two years ago when Josh moved to Salt Lake to start dancing with Ballet West,” Horns said. “[Visiting Josh’s family in New York] was so fun. His mom is amazing and took us around to eat the best food and see the best sights of the city. It was a little eerie, though, seeing the city shut down around us because of coronavirus.”

The two began their trip hiking around Death Valley, California, and visiting Disneyland in early March. They ended their vacation in New York City, not long after the first case of COVID-19 was reported there. By March 8, the city banned nonessential foreign travel for city employees.

The pair were halfway through their week of fun in New York when Mayor de Blasio declared a local state of emergency as there were 95 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city of 8.4 million people. He restricted gatherings exceeding 500 persons and required venues to maintain a occupancy level at or below 50 percent of legal capacity.

“We were watching the city shut down around us,” Horns said. “We were supposed to see a Broadway show but they shut down. All the restaurants were closing.”

The duo headed home as planned on Saturday, March 14.

“We stepped off the plane in Salt Lake with slightly sore throats, but couldn’t tell if it was just stepped-off-a-plane sore throats or coronavirus sore throats,” Shutkind said. “We figured it was better to be safe, so we called the next morning to get tested.”

“We went to the hospital for testing the day after getting back, but we were pretty confident at that point that we had contracted the virus,” Horns said. “The day after, we got really sick. We both got pretty bad fevers but Josh’s was a lot worse than mine. I was scared I was going to have to take him to the ER.”

“Soon after being tested, a high fever set in,” Shutkind said. “I remember feeling like within a matter of hours my breathing became labored, a crippling headache crept on, and I began developing a dry cough. It took about three days to break the fever and begin the recovery process.”

“I was so grateful to go through the illness with Lucas by my side,” Shutkind continued. “During the peak of my fever there was no way I could have taken care of myself. Luckily Lucas was experiencing less severe symptoms and took incredible care of me.”

The pair, aged 25 and 23, healthy and active, was able to recover in just a few days.

“Having now experienced the virus I am more grateful than ever for my good health,” Shutkind said.

The two left their building over the next two weeks only when a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit Salt Lake City.

“We just ran into my car,” Horns said. “I live on the third floor of an old brick building so we were pretty freaked. But we didn’t come into contact with anyone.”

By the end of their quarantine, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a stay-at-home order and closed restaurants and bars.

Keeping in touch

The Ballet West company does a “Zoom barre” weekly to keep in touch and “keep some sort of normalcy in our lives.”

“Having class once a week on Zoom allows us to still feel the connection to our art and the ballet world,” Shutkind said. “The sense of community we regularly experience in the ballet studio can still be felt through the camera as we all experience the effects of the pandemic together.”

The couple is happy to have at least been together during their quarantine.

“It was really nice to have each other when we were sick but even nicer to have each other during this quarantine period. Josh makes every day fun,” Horns said.

Asked for any silver linings in their experience, they found things to appreciate.

“I’m glad we got [COVID-19] over with and haven’t had to stress about getting it since,” Horns said. “I’m also glad for this time to be forced to slow down.”

Shutkind said he has a greater appreciation for health, community, and family through the experience.

Moving forward

“I really miss dancing, so I hope we get back to work soon,” Horns said. “I think this time has given people a new appreciation for coming together and seeing live performances so hopefully more people will come to the ballet than ever.”

“My hope moving forward is that everyone takes this illness seriously,” Shutkind said. “I know people are anxious to resume normal life and I know that I and my fellow dancers are eager to return to the studios so we can continue to share our art with the Salt Lake community.”

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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