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Rapid City man shares nightmare with delta variant

Maxwell Tushla
Zachariah Routt shares his experience with COVID 19 outside his home near Rapid City

Zachariah Routt said he’s had COVID-19 three times.

The 43-year-old first came down with symptoms in January 2020, before the virus had triggered a pandemic. Late last year he was sick again – and tested positive. It was a mild case – he lost his sense of taste and smell. Then, Routt caught the coronavirus again in late July.

This last time, it nearly killed him.

“I try to stay healthy, take my vitamins and eat right. I thought I would always just be in the clear about what COVID can do to the human body,” Routt said. “This last time, apparently, I was wrong.”

Routt has not gotten the COVID vaccination. He caught the Delta variant of the coronavirus – a much more highly contagious form of the disease. He suspects he was infected in Florida while on a family trip. He continued on for some business meetings but started to have symptoms in Denver.

An urgent care doctor suspected he had a kidney infection and prescribed antibiotics. Two days later he was at the Monument Health emergency room in Rapid City.

“My experience from there on took a sharp turn knowing it was the Delta variant,” Routt said.

He got a call from the state Department of Health and was told to quarantine for 14 days. But there was a complication.

“Part of the situation was we vacation-rent our home during Sturgis Motorcycle Rally,” Routt said. “So I didn’t have a home to come home to after this trip.”

So Routt checked himself into a hotel a few days before the start of the rally to continue his quarantine. Then came the weekend of the rally, when hotel prices skyrocket.

“So, I couldn’t stay there anymore,” Routt said. “So I checked myself out and I actually sat in my truck for a couple hours working with friends and family to see where I could stay.”

His symptoms got worse. He was so out of breath he could barely hold conversations with his family and health care providers. A nurse at Monument Health recommended he get to urgent care immediately.

But all of the urgent care rooms were full with patients and they couldn’t see him right away. Routt was still in his truck and starting to black out.

“And I recognize what’s going on. I’m not breathing and I need to get in there immediately,” Routt said. “I was not well enough to drive. So, I stumbled into the waiting room coughing, hacking, to the point of I don’t remember much after that other than I know I hit the floor. The next thing I remember I was in an ambulance on the way to Monument Health ER.”

I don’t remember much after that other than I know I hit the floor. The next thing I remember I was in an ambulance on the way to Monument Health ER.”

Routt was in and out of consciousness for two days. Doctors put him on remdesivir – an anti-viral drug that prevents the coronavirus from replicating.

Routt is a healthy and active person who mountain-bikes and hits the gym often. He was a lean 190 pounds. Once he got sick he dropped 30 pounds in two weeks. A month after catching the virus he’s still on oxygen, fighting a COVID pneumonia, but feeling better every day.

Monument Health – the region's only health system – was operating over capacity recently. Now, numbers reported to the state show 10 percent of ICU beds available.

Vaccination rates remain low West River. And they’ve slowed across the state but are starting to creep up. Fifty-six percent of South Dakotans have received a full vaccine series.

State health officials report a connection between the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and some of the current COVID-19 cases in West River.

The Sturgis rally brought around half a million people to the region. While hospitals are seeing an influx of patients, the Department of Health has traced at least 66 COVID cases to exposure at the rally.

Emily Leech is the lab director for Monument Health. She says testing demand is up 150 percent from early July.

“In the month of July we saw a steady increase in volumes,” Leech says. “But after the Sturgis rally we saw a significant increase in overall testing needs for the communities.”

Leech says the area is seeing an increase in colds and other respiratory viruses which is not typical this time of year. That’s also leading to an increased demand for COVID testing.

Monument Health has been working at capacity with COVID patients while vaccination rates continue to remain low.

East River, the Sanford and Avera health systems anticipate peak COVID cases in late September and early October. They’re calling on community members to escalate COVID safety measures. That means get vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distance in public.

The Gov. Kristi Noem administration says they continue to monitor hospital capacity.

Some people who have flouted the vaccine are starting to change their mind. Zachariah Routt said he will get the COVID vaccination once he’s convalesced.

He’s convinced people should listen to their healthcare provider – not social media.

“The recommendation is the vaccine,” Routt said. “As I get healthier I will get the vaccine. And that’s my choice and the choice of my family that we will be doing that.”

Routt said it’s worth telling his story if it prevents anyone else from going through what he has.

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