Doctors in Utah are warning of another spike in COVID-19 this summer – as the daily number of cases is its highest in 5 months
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Utah is experiencing a summer recurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic as the Delta variant has helped drive new cases and hospital stays to levels not seen in months, a senior doctor warned.
“We are in a very similar place to last summer,” said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, during a COVID-19 community briefing broadcast on Facebook Live Wednesday.
The University of Utah Health is postponing some elective operations “because COVID-19 is on the rise again,” said Dr. Kencee Graves, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Inpatient Services. (Intermountain has not yet delayed any elective surgeries, a company spokesman said.)
“This summer is different from last summer because half of us were vaccinated,” Graves said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday. “But some people live as if the pandemic is over.”
The Utah Department of Health reported 873 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday – most in a single day since February 17, when there were 1,148. The 7-day rolling mean of new cases is 611, which is the highest since February 28 when it was 634.
Webb warned that Utahns “must face the possibility of social limitations” – like wearing face masks and keeping 6 feet away from other people – that were introduced last year as the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths increased.
The difference, according to Webb, is that “vaccinations can now prevent all of this”.
UDOH, when the numbers were released on Wednesday, urged people again to get vaccinated.
“We have the tool to end the disruption and inconvenience of COVID-19 to our lives and economies – vaccinations,” the department said in a statement.
“More than 186 million Americans have chosen to get vaccinated under the most intense security surveillance in history,” she added. “In Utah, more than 1.6 million Utahners have received at least one dose and 1.4 million are fully vaccinated. Almost all COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are now among those who have chosen not to get vaccinated.
To date, Utah has recorded 3,110 “breakthrough cases” – people who tested positive for the virus two weeks or more after being fully vaccinated. One in 471 fully vaccinated people tested positive; one in 6,172 (a total of 236 patients) was hospitalized; and one in 161,845 (or nine people) has died.
“We hear about the groundbreaking cases,” said Webb, “but what we don’t hear is the denominator – the greater number of people overall who have been vaccinated and are protected against COVID.”
UDOH pointed to “studies from around the world” that “continue to show that the vaccines work” – that they are “safe and effective” and that “serious side effects are rare”. The department urged Utahners to “obtain credible information about the vaccines from their health care provider and reputable health organizations.”
In Utah, free vaccinations are available to anyone age 12 and older, and there are “hundreds” of vaccine providers across the state, UDOH noted. For websites and events that offer vaccines, see coronavirus.utah.gov.
In July 2020, Utah was in the middle of a summer boom, with the seven-day moving average of cases ranging from 462 to 669 cases per day. That number dropped into the 300s in August 2020, then rose again in the fall and winter, rising into the thousands per day.
This week, the number of positive COVID-19 tests per 100 tests is 19% higher than in July 2020, according to Erin Clouse, Strategic Engagement Manager at the University of Utah Health. And Utah saw 45% more hospital admissions and 23% more intensive care beds in July than last July.
Last July, Graves said: “We masked ourselves, we distanced ourselves socially. We worked from home, we limited our trips to the store. … Now it looks like things are normal when you go outside. “
Graves said she was “very alarmed” by the case count of 873 on Wednesday. “I hope this won’t be our seven-day average,” she said. “I have a feeling that it will get worse before it gets better,” she said, adding that rates will not reach last winter’s levels “because half of our population is vaccinated.”
Both Webb and Graves said they are concerned about what the numbers will look like this fall when children – including those ages 11 and younger who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine – return to school .
Doctors and health professionals will work with school districts, Webb said, to find ways to contain the spread of the virus in schools, including testing and contact tracing.
Webb also urged parents to have their children wear masks in school, even though Utah lawmakers have ruled that no school district can require a mask rule. “We know they work,” said Webb. “They were the tool that enabled Utah schools to stay open all last year.”
One reason Utah doctors say they are concerned about the surge in cases is that fewer healthcare workers are available to treat patients.
“We don’t have the deep bank that we had last summer,” said Graves.
Last year, she said, the University of Utah Hospital opened 20 additional ICU beds on May 29 to anticipate the surge in cases. Now, she said, “we don’t have the nurses to do these extra shifts. We don’t have respiratory therapists, we don’t have support services. … The COVID pandemic has hit healthcare staff very, very hard. “
Graves said the University of Utah health system currently has about 700 vacancies. Intermountain – which employs 42,000 people in Utah – has approximately 3,500 clinical and non-clinical positions across its system in Utah, Nevada and Idaho, an Intermountain spokesperson confirmed.
Webb said there was concern among health care workers that people are tired of hearing about the pandemic.
“There is certainly a feeling,” said Webb, “that the community is so tired of it that it is willing to give up the precautions that worked over the winter.”
Another growing feeling, Webb said, is that healthcare workers “are concerned about being abandoned.”
“The reality is the pandemic is not over yet,” said Webb. “This is a terrible disease that affects people’s lives and livelihoods. It affects more Utahners every day. “
Vaccine doses administered / total doses administered during the previous day • 6,434 / 2,963,291.
Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,456,605.
Cases reported on the previous day • 873.
Deaths Reported Last Day • Four: A Salt Lake County woman aged 25 to 44, a Salt Lake County man 45 to 64, a Uintah County woman 45 to 64, and a Utah man aged 45 to 64 64.
Tests Reported Last Day • For the first time, 5,004 people were tested. A total of 9,335 people were tested.
Hospital stays on the previous day • 295. That is two more than on Tuesday. Of the current hospital admissions, 121 are in the intensive care unit, two fewer than on Tuesday.
Percentage of positive tests • According to the original state method, the rate is 17.4%. That’s higher than the 7-day average of 13.4%.
The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same person. On Wednesday, the rate was 9.4%, about the same as the seven-day average of 9.3%.
[Read more: Utah is changing how it measures the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Here’s what that means.]
Total numbers so far • 425,603 cases; 2,424 deaths; 18,204 hospital stays; 2,872,453 people tested.