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SALT LAKE CITY — While Utah hospitals haven't reached "crisis standards of care" like neighboring Idaho, one doctor said Friday leaders fear the Beehive State could reach that situation if the community doesn't increase its efforts to fight disease spread.
"Things that happen in the health care systems and hospitals are directly related to what happens in the community. If your community's not vaccinated, if your community doesn't distance, if your community doesn't wear masks, there are going to be more cases," said Dr. Todd Vento, Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease physician.
"It's going to overload the hospital. And some folks don't like hearing that, but that's just the facts, and that's exactly what's happening in Idaho and they've shifted to that," he added.
Crisis care standards mean hospitals will prioritize care for patients using a triage system based on space and capacities. Health care is given to patients who are most likely to survive.
Utah confirmed 1,749 new coronavirus cases and eight deaths on Friday. The rolling, seven-day average for new cases is now 1,574 per day, and the average percent positivity rate of those tested stands at 13.7%, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Vento also explained during an update to the community that hospitals in the state's largest hospital system — and other systems throughout the state — are above capacity in intensive care units.
While capacity might appear adequate as not all beds are full according to state data, beds don't represent the whole situation, Vento said, as they need to be staffed by health care workers.
He said hospital officials are having daily discussions to transfer patients between hospitals as needed.
When asked whether the recent Labor Day weekend is impacting Utah's ongoing surge, Vento noted the state is seeing an increase in infections and hospitalizations overall. After Labor Day last year, Utah's percent positive rate increased.
But since then, the virus has mutated to become more infectious, Vento added.
Last year, the state saw around 360 daily new cases after Labor Day, he said, "and we steadily went up through December to about 4,000 or 5,000 cases. And this year, we were at about 1,400 cases already after Labor Day."
"We were 360% higher in our cases after Labor Day this year than we were last year," Vento said.
Schools are now back to in-person learning, and there's less social distancing and mask-wearing taking place. Vaccinations are also now available, however, he said.
It remains important "to prevent the infections that we can prevent," Vento said, urging residents who haven't yet done so to get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccines.
While Vento acknowledged that previous infection does offer natural immunity to the disease, he urged residents not to think of the vaccine and natural immunity as an "either-or" concept. He said recent research has found that those who were infected and also got a vaccination had almost a 2.5 times decreased risk in getting infected. A previous infection may not protect someone from future variants of the virus, including the now-prevalent delta variant.
While Utah hasn't shifted to crisis standards of care, the state has plans to go to that level if needed.
"We are right now in what's called a deep contingency phase, if you will, and even that is not the optimal level of care," Vento said.
Responding to a question about community concerns whether ICU capacity issues are "accurate and real," Vento emphasized that health care workers are being honest in their description of the current hospital situation.
"Our ICUs are over capacity. We're over capacity. That's on our numbers, that's on individual health care system numbers ... and that's also on the state numbers that the state tracks," he said. "There's no numbers that are being hidden."
New Utah data
Of the cases reported Friday, 433 were confirmed as school-age children — 198 cases were ages 5-10, 81 cases were 11-13, and 154 cases were 14-17, the Utah Department of Health said.
Health care workers administered 6,422 vaccines since Thursday's report, bringing total vaccinations given in Utah to 3,372,714 doses, according to the data.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 5.3 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 6.8 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to the coronavirus and 6.2 times greater risk of testing positive than vaccinated people, state health officials said in a statement.
Since Feb. 1, unvaccinated residents have experienced 4.8 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 5.0 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to the disease and 4.4 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, data shows.
Since vaccines became available beginning early this year, the state has confirmed 14,375 breakthrough cases, 767 breakthrough hospitalizations and 84 breakthrough deaths. Cases are counted as breakthrough if patients were fully vaccinated more than two weeks before they tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Thursday, 592 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, an increase of 10 since the previous day. The state is now seeing among the highest daily counts of hospitalized coronavirus patients. Referral ICUs that can treat the most seriously ill patients were 95.7% full with coronavirus patients and others; overall ICU use stood at 95.2%; and non-ICUs across the state were 63.4% full.
One death reported Friday occurred prior to September. The latest COVID-19 deaths:
- A Box Elder County man between the ages of 45 and 64, who was hospitalized when he died.
- An Iron County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Uintah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Utah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Wasatch County woman, 18-24, not hospitalized.
- A Washington County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized.