Kalispell Cop Was in ‘Pure Agony’ During Depths of COVID-19 Illness

Justin Turner isolated from his family when he returned from an out-of-state work trip, navigating array of symptoms

By Andy Viano
Kalispell police officer Justin Turner in the alley behind the Kalispell Police Department on Oct. 16, 2020. Turner contracted COVID-19 in August. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In some ways, Justin Turner was lucky.

The 35-year-old officer with the Kalispell Police Department rode out self-isolation in a house by himself to shield his wife and their toddler from exposure to the virus. Turner’s absence at work was manageable, too, since rehab from an earlier injury had him on light duty at the time of his diagnosis, and his quarantine became mostly an extension of that work.

But for at least a chunk of Turner’s fortnight with COVID-19, he was anything but comfortable.

“I had it pretty bad as far as symptoms go,” Turner said last week, two months after he contracted COVID-19 on a work trip where he acquired the virus not from an out-of-stater but from a fellow member of the Flathead Valley law enforcement community. Turner and two others from the area traveled together to a hostage negotiation training in Las Vegas, and one member of the traveling party, someone from a different law enforcement agency, exposed the other two. Turner, he said, had it the worst of the three.

By the time the training was over, the first of the trio was experiencing symptoms and was forced to drive home from Las Vegas to Kalispell. Turner, who was asymptomatic at the time, was deemed “not a direct exposure” and allowed to fly commercially, but when he landed he had a text message informing him the ill member of the traveling party had tested positive.

At his wife’s urging, Turner didn’t come home that night and went for another test the following morning despite still not feeling any symptoms. A few hours later, he had no doubt how the test would come back.

“I felt fine, no issue,” he said. “And then about midday, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I got it.’”

Turner’s positive test came back on a Friday, and the first two days were “miserable.” He was nauseous, did “a fair amount of vomiting,” had a consistent headache and suffered from debilitating body aches. Healthy, active and young, Turner experienced muscle aches throughout his body and likened the pain to post-gym soreness “times 1,000.”

“I’ve never experienced body aches like that,” Turner said. “I couldn’t even sleep (Friday) night because my body was in pure agony.”

Fortunately, Turner rebounded from the worst of his symptoms quickly. By the middle of the following week, the headaches, nausea and muscle aches were gone. But like many COVID-19 patients, it was about the time he started to feel better that his sense of taste and smell vanished.

“That was horrible,” Turner said. “I love to cook, I love to eat. I’m a big foodie.”

Two months later, Turner’s sense of taste is back but his smell is only “so-so,” and doctors don’t know whether that sense will fully return. Otherwise, Turner considers himself fortunate. The circumstances of his quarantine — he stayed by himself at his mother-in-law’s house while she moved in with his wife and kid — are ideal, and other than some hiccups closing on a house he and his wife were in the process of buying, the rest of his life was uninterrupted. He came back to work after 11 days in quarantine and now mans his post as the school resource officer at Kalispell Middle School.

These days, Turner has the virus in his rearview mirror and said the diagnosis and recovery has even left him with a slight sense of invincibility, knowing it’s unlikely he could contract the virus again in the immediate future. And despite his own sometimes-harrowing experience, Turner is eager for a return to life as it was before the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t say I’m behaving any differently,” he said. “I feel like we’ve still just got to keep living our lives and we can’t shut the world down forever. At some point we’ve got to come out of our holes.”


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