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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah hospital leader on Friday warned residents to expect COVID-19 cases to continue to skyrocket as more students return to school — with fewer health precautions than earlier in the pandemic.
State health officials on Friday reported 1,116 new COVID-19 cases, including 216 in school-age children. They also reported nine new deaths due to the disease. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,043 per day, and the average positivity rate of those tested is 14%.
"What we expect to see — and hope that we don't — is that we will see some pretty significant transmission in the school," said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare.
Although the coronavirus doesn't cause severe illness for most children, it does for a small percentage, some of whom are now receiving treatment at Primary Children's Hospital, Stenehjem said. But students will bring the infection home to their parents, grandparents and lead to further spread throughout communities.
At Intermountain's COVID-19 "hub" hospitals, which care for the most seriously ill patients, intensive care units were at 101.2% capacity on Friday, Stenehjem said.
"When you look at all our ICU beds across the organization, we're at 99% capacity. So we are definitely in that position where we are struggling to find ICU beds to care for all the patients that need them, that includes COVID and non-COVID alike," he added.
The doctor said he doesn't anticipate the situation will improve "any time soon."
Stenehjem said cases are trending up in younger populations. The median age of hospitalized patients has decreased about 10 years over the past several months, likely because the vaccines rolled out first in older adults, who still have higher vaccination rates even after the vaccine became available to everyone over age 12.
With the delta variant, symptoms begin showing within three to five days, according to Stenehjem. As each day brings higher new case counts, that means hospitals will see more and more patients within the next several days.
"We expect that as cases continue to rise — which they are continuing to rise across the state of Utah —that we'll then continue to see higher hospitalizations, and that that's going to eventually lead to higher amounts of death across our state, and I think that's clearly what we're seeing," Stenehjem said.
The delta variant, which is more contagious of the novel cornonavirus variants, is also as severe or moreso than the ancestral — or original — version of COVID-19, according to the doctor.
He said doctors are "carefully watching" the effectiveness of current vaccines to prevent infection and symptomatic and severe disease.
"And what we've seen over the past month or so is that there's a number of studies that have shown that the vaccine effectiveness ... has dropped from that 90-95% down to anywhere between 75% and 95%," Stenehjem said.
He said possible explanations are that the vaccine isn't as protective against delta as it was to the original strain it was studied in, or that the vaccine has "waning effectiveness." Eight months after some got vaccinated, the immunity might be wearing off.
"In all honesty, it's probably a combination of both," he said.
But 75% or more effectiveness is still "tremendous" for any vaccine, Stenehjem said.
As the time to receive a flu vaccine arrives in the fall, Stenehjem said those who are vaccine-eligible will be able to get their flu and booster COVID-19 shots simultaneously. Third doses should start becoming available by the end of September to those who received their vaccines at least eight months earlier.
While those who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be able to receive booster shots, those who had the Johnson and Johnson are advised to wait as guidance has not yet been released on whether a booster shot is recommended.
People who already had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine because doctors don't yet know the threshold of antibodies someone needs to determine they're immune, Stenehjem said. It's also unknown how long antibodies can protect a person, or whether they protect against the delta variant.
He urged anyone with any cold symptoms to get tested for COVID-19. Getting tested helps someone know they need to take precautions to prevent transmission. Those with the disease who detect it early can also see if they are eligible for antibody therapy, Stenehjem said.
The latest data
Friday's cases were confirmed out of 7,498 people tested since the previous day, with a 14.9% positive rate.
Of the 216 cases in children, 81 were between ages 5-10; 50 cases were between ages 11-13; and 85 cases were teens ages 14-18.
Health care workers administered 8,553 more vaccines since Thursday, bringing total vaccinations given in the state to 3,174,981.
In the last 28 days, people who are unvaccinated have been at 5.8 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 6.4 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 4.9 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, health department officials said.
Of the cases confirmed Friday, 265 were confirmed breakthrough cases, meaning the person had been fully vaccinated. Four additional hospitalizations were among breakthrough patients, and three of the newly confirmed coronavirus fatalities were also fully vaccinated, according to health department data.
Data shows that breakthrough cases have been confirmed in 8,022 people in Utah, 464 of whom have required hospitalization and 35 who have died. The death rate of fully vaccinated coronavirus patients stands at 0.00233%.
In Utah's hospitals, 419 people are currently receiving treatment for COVID-19, 158 of whom are in ICUs. Referral ICUs that can treat serious patients are 87.2% full; ICUs overall are 84.6% full, and nonintensive units are 61% full.
The latest deaths include:
- A Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 45 and 64, who was hospitalized when she died.
- A Wasatch County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Utah County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Weber County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Summit County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.