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Missoula mayor recalls personal battle with COVID-19

Posted at 11:20 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 13:20:29-05

MISSOULA — Like so many Missoulians, Mayor John Engen fell victim to the coronavirus.

We checked in with the mayor to see how he’s feeling now, and what he wants the community to know moving forward.

When Mayor Engen’s 91-year-old mother started feeling out of sorts in December, he didn’t blink an eye, “I took her in to live with me so that I could take care of her.”

His mother, Dolares, ended up testing positive for the coronavirus. The mayor knew he was putting himself at risk by taking her under his wing, but wouldn’t anyone do the same?

“Frankly, for me, there was no question of whether I would take care of her and be exposed,” Mayor Engen recalled. “That was just the right thing to do, and I would do it all day long.”

Not long after, Mayor Engen rang in the new year with a new COVID-19 diagnosis of his own. “My symptoms were extraordinary body aches. I never have headaches and I had a thumping pounding headache.”

Weeks later, Mayor Engen still doesn’t have a sense of smell -- but he’s bouncing back. Meanwhile, his mother, who continues to live with him, has also completely recovered.

Mayor Engen saw the virus up close and personal. He felt the uncertainty and fear as he was forced to play caretaker for the woman who had always taken care of him.

“My experience sharpened my empathy and concern, and that's why we're doing everything we can, again, to make sure that folks are safe,” Mayor Engen said. “There's a reason that we have non congregate shelter and a place for our seniors to be safe.”

Optimistic, Mayor Engen sees the light at the end of a very long tunnel, and as vaccines trickle through the population, he’ll be waiting. “My hope is that I am the last person in my category to get a vaccine. I want everyone to get one first. I ain't jumping the line."

“This pandemic has been harder on some folks than others, so, to the degree that we can continue to dig deep, be compassionate and help our neighbors, do the right things,” Mayor Engen said. “It will shorten the haul here."

While he’s optimistic -- especially after seeing the county’s vaccine clinics up and running -- Mayor Engen urges the public to continue with those mitigation efforts we’re all familiar with; wash your hands, keep your distance, and wear a mask.