Doctors say Utah now seeing COVID-19 surge from holidays

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MURRAY — The current rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are a sign of a surge from the holidays, according to Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

How bad it gets again depends on what Utahns do to stop the spread.

"We anticipate that the month of January is going to be pretty rough from a hospitalization capacity standpoint," Stenehjem said.

As COVID-19 case numbers rise, he said, there's usually a seven to 10 day lag before increases in hospitalizations, which is now happening.

The Utah Department of Health estimated there were 53,597 active cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Thursday. The seven-day rolling average number of positive cases per day was 2,952, while the rolling positive test rate per day had risen to 32.7%.

"Without a doubt, this is a surge from, I would say the holidays, starting from Dec. 24 going through New Year's," said Stenehjem.

Case counts, positivity rate and now hospitalizations are on the rise again after a dip in mid-December.

"We're now starting to see this tick up in hospitalizations both on the state data, and also on Intermountain's internal data," he said.

Stenehjem said this is the holiday surge they expected. "If you look at the trend line, it's going back up," he said.

Patients in the hospital are telling doctors how they believe they contracted the virus.

"'Yeah, I had a holiday gathering … A couple of days later, somebody got sick,'" Stenehjem said.

They hoped hospitalizations would drop further in December to make room for patients during this surge but, that did not happen. The hospital is again over the 85% threshold, which is the functional capacity of the hospital.

"Unfortunately, we anticipate that this surge will continue, and we'll start seeing more and more cases which will lead to more hospitalizations and, as we know, it will eventually lead to more deaths," Stenehjem said.

How long the surge lasts depends on how much the virus has spread in the last week, and how quickly everyone gets back to social distancing practices and limiting gatherings.

"If people revert back to that, we anticipate to see those numbers come back down," said Stenehjem.

With so many positive cases, the doctor said more people need to get tested so they can better understand what's going on with the virus.

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Jed Boal


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