Utah doctor says we need to return to basics to stop COVID-19 spread among children

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, said the data shows the rise in COVID-19 cases is being driven by children. He recommended a return to the pandemic basics to stop the surge. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)



MURRAY — Doctors in Utah and across the region fear the current surge of COVID-19 could overwhelm our hospitals.

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, said the data shows the rise in case counts is being driven by children.

He recommended a return to the pandemic basics to stop the surge.

"We're going to have to pivot back to that, especially in those children that are unable to get the vaccine," said Stenehjem. "We know what works. It's a matter of making sure that we can implement that."

Utah hospitals are effectively full. They don't have the staffing to add more beds. They've also had to turn down requests for help from out-of-state hospitals, which are in worse shape.

"My biggest concern right now is… yes, it's with the people that are in the hospital that are struggling in the ICU, those adults," said Stenehjem. "But, I'm also very concerned about our children and what's going to happen in the next coming weeks."

Stenehjem said COVID-19 hospitalizations among children are rising nationally.

"I suspect we will see that occur here in Utah, as well, and if we continue to see this rise in kids getting infected, we're going to see higher hospitalizations," he said. "We're going to see spillover from children into adults, and that's going to further complicate our challenges in the hospitals, as well."

To stop the surge, Stenehjem said, "Immediately, we need to pivot to public health measures by wearing masks in classrooms, in order to keep kids in school. What I worry is going to happen is we're going to have significant outbreaks in schools, which is going to lead to schools shutting down."

Hospitals in northern Idaho went into crisis standards of care Tuesday because their system has been overwhelmed, and they do not have adequate resources to provide regular care.

"That's something we want to avoid at all costs, if it all possible," said Stenehjem.

It's a problem facing hospitals across the country. Health care workers are the No. 1 shortage.

"We don't have health care workers that we can pull from other parts of the country because they're having challenges staffing their own hospitals," said Stenehjem.

Utah hospitals, he said, are getting multiple requests from multiple states. They want to know if Utah hospitals can take their COVID-19 patients.


We know what works. It's a matter of making sure that we can implement that.

–Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases doctor at Intermountain Healthcare


"Over the weekend, we had to deny 10 transfer requests from out of state, other people looking to place patients in our facilities, and we've had to deny 10 of those."

Slowing transmission of the virus will ease the burden on hospitals, said Stenehjem, so he recommended getting vaccinated.

If you're not vaccinated, he said to mask up and social distance in order to stop the spread.

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Jed Boal

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