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Wildfire smoke in northern Utah increases risk of COVID-19, doctor says

Shixian Wang, a pharmacist with Red Rock Pharmacy, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Salt Lake City on Dec. 29. Utah's COVID-19 surge showed no indication of slowing down Friday as 894 new cases were reported.

Shixian Wang, a pharmacist with Red Rock Pharmacy, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Salt Lake City on Dec. 29. Utah's COVID-19 surge showed no indication of slowing down Friday as 894 new cases were reported. (Kristin Murphy, KSL)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — With smoke from distant wildfires clouding Utah's air and COVID-19 cases continuing to spike, hospital leaders warned Friday that residents are at greater risk for respiratory infections.

"Periods of high air pollution and air pollution exposure really increase the risk of pneumonia and bronchitis and infections, viral infections including COVID. And so having this degree of air pollution increases our susceptibility to getting COVID," said Dr. Denitza Blagev, Intermountain Healthcare pulmonary physician.

Utah's COVID-19 surge — largely attributed to the more-infectious delta variant — showed no indication of slowing down Friday as the state reported 894 new cases.

Friday's wave of wildfire pollution moving in at the same time as a coronavirus surge "is really unfortunate. The other part is that we know the periods of air pollution of other diseases, so it increases the risk of other things like heart attack or stroke," according to Blagev.

The doctor said Intermountain Healthcare and other hospital systems are experiencing strains due to the increased risk for medical patients.

"So many, many reasons to take the air pollution level today seriously," Blagev said.

N95 masks are protective against air pollution, she noted, but homemade or cloth masks are not. Health officials and weather experts have urged residents along the Wasatch Front to avoid spending time outside until conditions improve.

Utah's hospitals are currently caring for 375 patients with COVID-19, and intensive care unit beds are 79.8% full with 164 critical COVID-19 patients and others. Non-ICU units are 62.5% full.

Friday's cases were confirmed out of 7,411 people tested, a 12% positive rate, the Utah Department of Health said. Now, 3,065,799 vaccines have been given in Utah, with 7,820 given since the previous day. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 859 per day, and the average for percent positivity is 14.9%.

As of Friday, 438,479 cases have been confirmed in the state since spring of 2020, and 2,494 people have died due to the disease, a rate of about 0.57%. The current spike in deaths has been occurring largely among those in the 45-64 age range. That age range also has a lower vaccination rate compared to older Utahns, data shows, with 60.7% of those ages 40-49, 68.3% of those ages 50-59, and 77.6% of those ages 60-69 fully vaccinated.

The eight most recent deaths include:

  • Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Davis County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Davis County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Utah County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Weber County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
  • Utah County maan, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.

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