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Utah Department of Health reports rise in new COVID-19 cases

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

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

A sign at the TestUtah COVID-19 testing site outside the Dee Events Center on the Weber State University campus in Ogden is pictured Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.

COVID-19 is spiking again in Utah and health experts are asking the public to get vaccinated and take appropriate precautions.

Over the past seven days, the Utah Department of Health reports 4,504 new COVID-19 cases, four new deaths and 118 hospitalizations, with 18 of those patients in intensive care units. Physicians expect those numbers to continue to increase over the next several weeks.

“I’m not surprised by today’s numbers and I think it’s a significant under count,” Dr. Brandon Webb, infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare, said Thursday. “Do we need to shut down? No. Absolutely not, but do we need to have a strategy in place? Absolutely.”

Webb said while everyone is experiencing COVID fatigue, the virus isn’t going away, so everyone needs to look at their own risk and the risk of those around them when it comes to prevention.

“COVID is here to stay, so we need to learn how to navigate this new environment,” he said. “We are seeing more cases that are mild, but we are still seeing severe disease and that is a big focus. Risk has to do with immunity overall and vaccination remains a critical part.”

The surge is being caused by omicron subvariant strains such as BA.2.12.1, said Dr. Andrew Pavia, infectious disease physician at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. Although highly transmissible, the vaccine has still been shown to be very effective at cutting down severe illness, hospitalization and death. Because the vaccine efficacy wanes over time, health experts say it’s important to get a third shot.

“Our hospitals are pretty full with run-of-the-mill patients and we are still experiencing major staff shortages in all of our hospitals,” Pavia said.

Pavia said there hasn’t been enough experience with these new variants to say how different they are clinically. Unfortunately, he said, they are able to infect people who have had prior infection.

“If you’ve had three doses of vaccine or two doses and infection, you’re pretty well protected. Others, not so much. And if it’s been six months since your last vaccine, the protection isn’t so good anymore,” he said.

Pavia said COVID is also increasing in children right now, although hospitalizations have not — yet.

“COVID in children has increased five-fold from where it was in early April,” he said. “We are also seeing long COVID in children and it can occur sometimes in children who have had very mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. It can be life changing and debilitating. We have to really think about this big burden of children and also adults having their lives changed for months on end.”

While some people are still skeptical about getting the vaccine or not worried about getting sick, Webb and Pavia said it might not be a big deal until it lands on your doorstep.

“It’s a big deal for someone in the ICU,” Webb said. “It’s a big deal for someone whose life has been significantly impacted by long COVID. While we’re tired of COVID, we’re not putting our heads in the sand. We need to make sure we are protecting those who are most vulnerable.”

Pavia agreed.

“We’ve had a million Americans who have died. That’s more than all wars fought put together,” he said. “It may not seem like a big deal if it hasn’t landed on your front door. And if you’re not impacted by it yourself, think about your neighbors, community and congregations.”

Both physicians said that for those who work around the elderly or live with someone too young to be vaccinated or someone who is immunocompromised, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing are still encouraged.

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