SALT LAKE CITY — A recent rise in a respiratory disease that is common in children has the potential to match up with a surge in COVID-19 as Utah kids head back to school.
Pediatricians have seen a rise in Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, in August, according to Dr. Per Gesteland, a hospitalist for University of Utah Health and Primary Children's Hospital. The disease can severely affect infants and toddlers and land them in the hospital.
"It has a substantial impact on the children in our communities," Gesteland said during an Intermountain news conference Wednesday.
The Utah Department of Health reported 1,114 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the first day since Thursday that over 1,000 cases have been reported in a single day. Seven deaths and 6,823 more vaccinations were also reported.
There are 389 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Utah as of Wednesday. The rolling seven-day average for positive cases in the state is now at 812. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "people over people" method is now 13.7%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 9.8%.
RSV typically affects very young children and the elderly the worst, Gesteland added. But it can also affect people of other ages who have underlying health conditions, such as asthma.
Typically, RSV is a winter disease that hits its peak in January or February, according to Intermountain. Last winter during the COVID-19 pandemic, Primary Children's Hospital had no RSV patients, which had never happened before.
This year, the RSV spike has started in August, which is also unheard of, Intermountain officials said.
It's possible that smoke from the wildfires that has been filling up the Salt Lake Valley and creating bad air pollution could have contributed to the increase in RSV cases, Gesteland said. Particulate matter from polluted air can get into the lower respiratory tract and cause inflammation that can lead to RSV and other issues.
"The wildfire smoke certainly isn't helping the situation," he said.
Some Utah health officials have said to expect a rise in COVID-19 cases when school begins because children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines could spread the highly contagious delta variant in classrooms.
"We're watching this very closely because we're concerned that those trends are going to pick up," Gesteland said.
Gesteland said a spike in RSV has the potential to line up with that back-to-school COVID-19 surge. That would likely mean a further strain on the state's health care system, which is already stretched, he added.
Wearing masks continues to be one of the "best tools in the toolbox" for stopping the spread of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 and RSV, Gesteland said.
"I think there's a really strong argument to be made for putting masks on our children when they go back to school," he said. "I'm a huge proponent of getting kids back into school, but let's do it in a smart way."
RSV shares many of the same symptoms as COVID-19, so it's important for people experiencing respiratory issues to get tested, Gesteland said. Unlike COVID-19, there are no at-home testing options for RSV, so it must be tested in a clinical setting.
Gesteland said people should continue practicing COVID-19 preventative measures, such as wearing masks, socially distancing and practicing good hand hygiene, which can also stop the spread of RSV.
"Let's try to rally together as a community to keep each other safe and healthy," he said.
7 more deaths
The seven COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday are:
- A Salt Lake County man between the ages of 25 and 44 who was hospitalized when he died.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Beaver County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- An Emery County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Juab County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Beaver County woman, 25-44, hospitalized.
Of the 389 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah Wednesday, 147 are in intensive care units, according to the health department. About 80% of all ICU beds in Utah are now occupied, including about 83% of beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 60% of non-ICU beds are now occupied.
A total of 3,097,316 vaccine doses have now been administered in Utah, according to the health department. A total of 1,720,449 Utahns, which is about 53.7% of the total Utah population, have now received at least a first dose of the vaccine. A total of 1,509,140 Utahns are fully vaccinated, which is about 47.1% of the total population.
For vaccine-eligible Utahns ages 12 and older, 66.4% have received at least a first dose and 58.2% are fully vaccinated.
Of the 2,987,745 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 14.8% have tested positive for the disease. The number of total tests conducted since the pandemic began in Utah is now 5,431,004, up 13,501 since Tuesday. Of those, 7,532 were tests of people who hadn't previously been tested for COVID-19.
Wednesday's totals give Utah 442,245 total confirmed cases, with 19,144 total hospitalizations and 2,518 total deaths from the disease.
More information about Utah's health guidance levels is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels.
Information is from the Utah Department of Health and coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts. For more information on how the Utah Department of Health compiles and reports COVID-19 data, visit coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts and scroll down to the "Data Notes" section at the bottom of the page.