By now, many Minnesotans have heard former GOP legislator Nick Zerwas share the details of his five-day hospital stay after becoming infected with COVID-19.
This week, Zerwas joined Gov. Tim Walz at a news conference to urge Minnesotans to take the virus seriously. On Friday, he went on CNN to do the same.
But Zerwas's good cheer and health now belie how harrowing his brush with COVID was. A chilling detail, one that hasn't gotten the spotlight it deserves, is how quickly he became severely ill. In under 30 hours, he went from having a nagging cough to requiring intensive care.
With COVID spiking in Minnesota, Zerwas' high-speed turn for the worse illustrates several vital points. It's critical to seek medical care without hesitation. It's also important to have on hand an inexpensive, easy-to-use device called a pulse oximeter that measures blood oxygen levels and warns when at-home care is no longer enough.
Zerwas, 39, caught what he thought was a mild cold a few weeks ago. But on Nov. 8, his nagging cough deepened. He spent a restless night at his Elk River home and got up the next day struggling to catch his breath. That's alarming for anyone but was especially so for Zerwas, who was born with a serious heart condition.
Thankfully, his wife Bette Zerwas had purchased a pulse oximeter. The fingerclip device delivered troubling news. Zerwas's oxygen level was far below normal.
They sought medical care right away. That night, Zerwas was in the ICU in a Maple Grove hospital on oxygen. The speed with which it unfolded stunned Zerwas, who remembers thinking, "How the hell did this happen?"
Some might downplay the severity of his illness due to his heart condition, but that's an inaccurate conclusion to draw. Dr. Andrew Olson, medical director for COVID-19 hospital medicine at M Health Fairview, noted that risk factors for severe COVID — such as age, Type 2 diabetes and obesity — are widespread. Olson did not treat Zerwas, but he said rapid declines are not an uncommon scenario for patients.
Olson urged Minnesotans to follow the state's new restrictions on social gatherings and other activities. Doing so protects friends and loved ones. It will also help prevent medical providers from getting sick.
"Please help us with these simple things," Olson said. "We need the public's support."