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Utah health department reports record high COVID hospitalizations

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 20, 2022

Photo supplied, McKay-Dee Hospital

An ICU worker helps care for a COVID-19 patient at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

Thursday’s hospitalizations from COVID-19 were at a record high, with 756 cases reported by the Utah Department of Health.

“Cases are going up really steeply now,” said Erin Clouse, University of Utah Health’s strategic engagement manager. “We’re seeing worrisome increases of the new daily admissions and they are the highest they’ve ever been.”

Clouse said this is the first time during the beginning of the pandemic that hospitalizations have consistently been above 600. However, she said intensive care unit admissions have not seen the same trend so far.

While other states in the east as well as South Africa and the UK are showing signs of the omicron variant peaking, Dr. Andrew Pavia said that might not be a good indicator for Utah because of the lower vaccination rate in the state.

“Predictions are difficult,” said Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at U of U Health. “We’ve really maxed out our testing capacity. The governor has talked about people not seeking testing, so the test numbers may not be as accurate. I’m not sure we’re at the peak yet. Peak give us the sense that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but things are going to get worse for us in health care because hospitalizations usually lag about a week behind and deaths about a week after that.”

Pavia also said because of the massive numbers of infected people, the virus is having an impact on other Utahns, the health care system, police, fire, emergency services, clearing of streets and grocery store stocked items.

“(It’s) unlike anything we’ve seen through the pandemic, so we really shouldn’t have any sense that this, because it is a little bit less severe, is not causing massive disruption,” he said.

Pavia also said people shouldn’t get too comfortable with the idea that omicron is less severe than other variants. Children between the ages of 1 and 4 have been impacted in different ways than with other variants and are ending up with complications such as croup and bronchiolitis. In addition, Pavia said, people who aren’t sick enough to be hospitalized are still in bed and very miserable for several days.

“There is long-term hope, but it is not time to let up,” he said. “We absolutely need people to take it very seriously for the next two weeks. We need to continue masking in indoor places and we need to get more people vaccinated.”

Pavia said within the next month, the state’s supplies of oral antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibody treatments should improve, and hopefully more health care workers who have been out sick will be able to return to work.

Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at U of U Health, said even though the omicron variant may be close to peaking, reinfections have been rising.

“We do our own testing here at the university and we have found that asymptomatic people who were not exposed is close to 12%, so they are spreading the virus without even knowing it,” he said. “That’s why we need to take protective measures such as masking up.”

Vinik also said natural immunity is not as good at protecting people from omicron as it has been with other variants. He said the number of reinfections of those tested at the hospital were 185 in just one week.

“Please don’t let up,” he said. “This is a big deal for us. I get calls every day from outside hospitals who want to transfer patients and they have to wait and that’s not fair to those patients either. People in pain who need to get surgical procedures are not getting it. Vaccinations can prevent a lot of these hospitalizations. Part of this can be prevented.”

Pavia said the state will eventually get a break from omicron, but it’s hard to know if there’s a different variant around the corner, so it’s important for the community to remain vigilant.

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