Can Utah Slow Its COVID-19 Surge? Officials say yes, with masks, gunshots
Given the surge in Utah COVID-19 cases triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant that won’t slow down until this fall, health officials are urging Utah officials to mask themselves and make sure they are fully vaccinated against the deadly virus.
“We need to get the wearing of face covers back to normal,” said Gabe Moreno, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Department of Health, on Monday, just before the Utah Department of Health reported 2,244 new COVID-19 cases and 15 additional deaths from the virus as of Friday.
“We know that the delta variant produces a higher viral load in vaccinated people and therefore makes them more contagious than other variants,” said Moreno. “We need to make sure we wear masks indoors and around other people whose vaccination status we don’t know.”
The advice of the State Health Office is less far-reaching.
“We recommend that unvaccinated people wear masks indoors. Of course, we are always watching how the virus and the pandemic play out, but at this point we have not changed our guidelines on masks for these two populations (vaccinated and unvaccinated), ”said State Health Department spokeswoman Charla Haley.
The state health department later released a “highly recommended” list of “layered prevention strategies” for K-12 schools, including wearing a mask indoors, social distancing, good hygiene, and promoting vaccinations.
The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reversed a previous recommendation that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear face masks, saying that all Americans in COVID-19 hotspots should mask themselves in public regardless of their vaccination status. The same goes for everyone in K-12 schools.
But in Utah, state lawmakers lifted the statewide mask mandate in April and passed new laws restricting the power of other entities to impose COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates in schools, a situation that affects the leaders of the GOP-controlled legislature made clear is unlikely to change despite the recent surge.
Han Kim, professor of public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, said the situation in Utah is likely to get worse before it gets better, especially since the state has the youngest population in the country and the vaccines don’t yet come for those of them 12.
“We have slightly better vaccination numbers than Arkansas, but we have a younger population who cannot be vaccinated,” Kim said. “Numbers, how much will they get? The models I’ve seen suggest that this surge won’t peak until September or October because the big worry is that the kids will be back to school in a few weeks. “
Daniela Villanueva will receive a free COVID-19 shot at the Salt Lake County Health Department Mobile Health Center at Rancho Market in West Valley City on Friday, July 30, 2021. Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Increasing case numbers lead to frustrations
Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, the region’s largest healthcare provider, warned last week that the upcoming school year could get worse because of the dominance of the Indian Delta variant, which is believed to be as easily transmitted as chickenpox.
“You will see this virus spread in schools. And then these children will take the virus home and pass it on to vulnerable parents and vulnerable grandparents. It’s just a fact. We know you get a broadcast if you put 30 people in an enclosed space, ”he said. “It’s a different virus.”
Stenehjem said he was “skeptical” measures like segregating students and encouraging hand washing would be enough to slow the spread. “We know masking works,” he said, adding that when his children were old enough to go to school they would wear masks.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that daily COVID-19 infections in Utah, at more than 4,500, may not peak until mid-September when the population reverts to pre-pandemic behaviors despite rising numbers and delayed vaccination rates the worst case scenario.
However, if 95% of Utahners wear masks in public – the best scenario – that estimate drops to about 224 cases by mid-September. By mid-October, the institute estimates that up to 146 more Utahners could have died from the virus – a number that drops to another 51 if everyone is wearing masks.
The fact that they cannot go back to mask mandates has frustrated some local officials. Dr. Angela Dunn, now Salt Lake County Health Department director, said it was “in vain” to make her recommendation mandatory that children who are too young to be vaccinated should wear masks in class at the start of the new school year.
Salt Lake County Councilor David Alvord posted on Facebook that he “lit my county email address with the majority protesting the reintroduction of the mask mandate in our schools,” and said he tended to to deny the reintroduction of a requirement to wear face coverings in schools if this was put to the vote.
Doobin Im, a Salt Lake County facility maintenance worker, is posting new signs at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City showing the updated guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, August 2nd 2021. The CDC now recommends masks for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public places. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
“Health decisions should be made by individuals and by parents of children. I suppose if there was a worse virus, something like the bubonic plague, I might feel differently, but again, everyone would probably be more willing to get the vaccine in this scenario, ”said the city council.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has been able to provide a mask mandate for the city’s 3,000 workers while on the job, as well as the public, including children 3 and older, who visit city government facilities. Legislature has a similar mandate to enforce at the county level made much more difficult.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement that she supports all who mask themselves in the county buildings.
“While nothing is as effective as vaccines in ending the COVID-19 pandemic, we know masks still help prevent the virus from spreading,” said Wilson, adding that she supported Dunn in recommending, ” that everyone wears masks while they are in the public areas of our hotel ”. District building, whether vaccinated or not. “
The Summit County’s Department of Health issued a statement stating that “all potential measures to contain COVID-19 as permitted under applicable law” will be considered in the light of the latest CDC recommendations, and points out that the department is “severely restricted” by the measures taken by the legislature.
Kim doesn’t anticipate any new mandates in Utah anytime soon.
“It’s really so politicized here, I don’t see much,” said Kim. “I’m a little pessimistic about the response from the national republican leadership. Maybe something. Unfortunately, these governments only seem to react when the numbers get really bad. “
Seven-day average for positive cases at 861
The 2,244 new cases reported on Monday include three that have been removed showing the daily number has dropped back below 1,000. The state health department announced on Friday that there were 958 cases; on Saturday 790 and Sunday 499. Last week, Utah had its highest daily case numbers since mid-February.
An additional 18,134 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Utah since Friday, but still fewer than half of all Utahners, only 46.3%, are fully vaccinated. Even in adults aged 18 and over, the number of fully vaccinated Utahners is less than 61%.
The 7-day rolling average for positive tests is 861 per day, and 14,769 people have tested and 23,459 tests performed in Utah as of Friday. The 7-day rolling average for percent positivity of the tests is 10.4% when all results are included and 14.7% when multiple tests by one subject are excluded.
There are currently 367 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah and the state’s death toll from the virus is 2,466, with 15 additional deaths reported as of Monday. You are:
• A Utah County man, aged 65 to 84, resident in a long-term care facility.
• A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, who was not hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Utah County woman, between 45 and 64, was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Weber County man, older than 85, resident in a long-term care facility.
• A Washington County man, aged between 25 and 44, was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A man whose place of residence was unknown, between 25 and 44 years of age, who was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Salt Lake County man aged 65 to 84 who was hospitalized at the time of his death.
• A Salt Lake County woman aged 65 to 84 who was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Uintah County man, older than 85, had not been hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Washington County man aged 45 to 64 who was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Salt Lake County man aged 25 to 44 who was hospitalized at the time of his death.
• A Tooele County man, between 65 and 84, was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Salt Lake County woman aged 45 to 64 who was hospitalized at the time of her death.
• A Washington County woman aged 45 to 64 who was hospitalized at the time of death.
• A Weber County man, older than 85, was hospitalized at the time of death.