Upthegrove diagnosed with COVID-19: KC Councilmember hopes his disclosure will inspire others to get vaccinated and follow precautions

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KC Councilmember Dave Upthegrove — Photo courtesy of the Councilmember
KC Councilmember Dave Upthegrove — Photo courtesy of the Councilmember

King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove disclosed last week that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19, despite having been vaccinated last spring. He continued to work remotely from his home and appeared at a King County Council meeting held online the same week. Upthegrove has served the 5th District since 2014 and is one of two openly Gay members on the council.

"It is like a really horrible case of the flu. I have chest and sinus congestion, sore throat, headache, fever, muscle ache, and extreme fatigue," he told the SGN during an online interview. "The first night the fever and muscle aches were so bad I didn't sleep at all. I am mostly staying in bed but am completely exhausted.

"The King County Council is working remotely, so contracting COVID won't impact my work at the council, except to the extent that being sick in bed means I am clearing nonessential items from my calendar so I can rest and get well."

A representative of King County Executive Dow Constantine said, "All of us wish him the best and hope for a speedy recovery."

"I think everyone is thankful he was vaccinated and know how important it is for everyone to get one of the vaccines," said Chase Gallagher, Constantine's interim director of communications.

King County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott, who was the first openly Gay councilmember and represents the 8th District, says he has been following Upthegrove's condition. "I've been in touch with Dave to wish him a speedy recovery and would remind everyone of the value of getting vaccinated," he told the SGN this week.

Upthegrove says he is unsure where he may have picked up the virus but admits he "attended a few public events, but mostly outdoors, masked, and socially distanced." He said he disclosed his COVID-19 status "in order to encourage other people to get vaccinated."

Upthegrove previously served as the first openly Gay state representative from outside the City of Seattle when he was appointed to the Washington state legislature in 2001. He went on to serve five terms until he was elected to the King County Council in 2013. Currently, he is running for reelection against Shukri Olow, a former refugee and community organizer, in a district that includes the cities of Burien, Des Moines, Kent, Normandy Park, Renton, SeaTac, and Tukwila. The pair recently faced off via Zoom during a candidate forum organized by the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability.

"The biggest impact is not being able to be out knocking on doors meeting voters," said Upthegrove. "Even once my symptoms go away and I feel better, I will still need to quarantine until the 22nd. Also, being sick in bed means I am not able to do much at all relating to the campaign.

"The candidate forum was difficult, because I was so tired and felt so miserable, and it required being out of bed and answering questions for an audience for two hours."

State Senator Jamie Pedersen (D-43), who once served with Upthegrove in the legislature, joined more than 420 people responding to his post on his private Facebook page announcing his COVID-19 diagnosis. He told the SGN this week he was "glad [Upthegrove] was vaccinated" and it "sounds like it could have been much worse."

Upthegrove says he's been "flooded with well-wishes" and is grateful for the public's support. "The outpouring of kindness and love from so many people is appreciated," he said.

His husband, Chad Harper, has tested negative for the virus.

KC Councilmember Dave Upthegrove received his first vaccination the week of April 30, 2021. — Photo courtesy of the Councilmember  

The virus, vaccines, and breakthrough cases
The first COVID deaths in the nation occured in King County. Upthegrove and his colleagues on the Council have been working with Public Health — Seattle & King County and local health departments to mount a defense against the virus.

"The King County Council has been unanimous in following the science and supporting our public health professionals," said Upthegrove. "My last year and a half has been spent helping oversee the public health response, as well as supporting the community through the pandemic."

According to data from Public Health — Seattle & King County, people who were not fully vaccinated were eight times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, 46 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 78 times more likely to have died of COVID-19 related illness over the last 30 days.

Gabriel Spitzer, a communications specialist at Public Health, recommends that the "most important step people can take to avoid catching and spreading COVID-19 is to get vaccinated." He said that those who have completed their vaccine series should take "additional precautions," including wearing masks in public spaces, especially indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, he added, should also get tested as soon as possible and isolate themselves while they await the results.

"A 'layered' approach, combining vaccination with other prevention measures, is the best way to stay safe from COVID-19," explained Spitzer. "The COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but no vaccine is 100% protective. When we have more vaccine breakthrough cases, that does not mean the vaccines are falling short: it just reflects that a higher percentage of the population is already vaccinated.

"Most vaccine breakthrough cases are not serious. What is important to know is how much the vaccine reduces a person's risk of coming down with a severe infection, and there, the signal is clear: vaccines dramatically reduce your risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19."

Upthegrove credits getting vaccinated as one reason he has not experienced a worse outcome. "Public health experts all report that being vaccinated reduces my risk of complications as well as reduces the severity and duration of my symptoms," he said. "It also reduced my chances of contracting the virus. But this is an important reminder that just because you are vaccinated doesn't mean you are completely immune.

"It is important to still follow other public health guidelines like masks and social distancing. Had I not been vaccinated, this could have been life threatening."