Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — While Utah has seen a slight decrease in COVID-19 cases, hospital leaders on Wednesday warned the state is "not out of the woods yet."
"Now is not the time to let your guard down. COVID is not over," said Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at University of Utah Health.
Nationally, a 30% decline in COVID-19 cases occurred over the last several weeks, but the majority of that decline took place in southeastern states, Vinik noted.
"As we move further west to states like Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, the story isn't as promising," he said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health confirmed 1,845 new cases and 19 additional deaths. The rolling, seven-day average for positive tests is 1,380 per day, and the average for percent positivity of those tested is 15.6%.
And hospitals were treating 624 coronavirus patients — a pandemic record.
Hospitals remain overwhelmed
Over the past three weeks, U. Health saw a "gradual upward trend" in new cases, according to Vinik, but he noted that U. coronavirus testing centers encompass a "limited geography." When the system sees an upward trend, however, it has historically led to a statewide trend, the doctor added.
Patients from surrounding states are also seeking treatment at U. Health, Vinik said.
Hospitalizations at the state level include about 600 patients with COVID-19 each day, he said, with intensive care units treating about 230 people.
"These numbers are as high as the peaks that we saw last December and January. The big difference ... is a strain on health care personnel, that we don't have nearly the staff to take care of these patients as we did in December of last year," Vinik said.
Nearly every day over the last week, U. Health has gotten pages from hospitals facing difficulty placing patients in beds. Some patients wait between 12 and 24 hours in small community hospitals, he said, until a bed opens up at a larger facility.
"Care is suffering throughout the state due to the situation of how significant patients are — and they're very ill — and we can't always get to them when we want to get to them," according to Vinik.
Dr. Elizabeth Middleton, associate medical director of the U. Health medical intensive care unit, said patients in smaller communities are becoming sicker during that time delay.
The overall patient population in the ICU at U. Health are "sicker" than what the hospital saw last year because those with less serious illnesses aren't getting treated there due to space constraints.
Middleton said she has taken care of vaccinated patients with severe enough symptoms to go to the ICU, but "by and large" those patients have an underlying condition that means they can't mount a strong antibody response.
Vaccinated patients without underlying conditions typically end up "turning around" and being released within a couple days, she said.
Will holidays bring another surge?
Vinik said U. Health officials wanted to get the word out ahead of the holidays, noting that most hospitalized patients are unvaccinated.
It's not too late to get the vaccine if you haven't, he said, urging people to get vaccinated before Thanksgiving, "to help protect yourselves, your loved ones, and the community."
It's difficult to know what the holidays could bring, the doctor said, but health care leaders are concerned as family gatherings serve as one of the biggest sources of spread.
But Vinik said he's hopeful enough people have been vaccinated and enough have natural antibodies from previous infections that we won't have a winter surge like last year.
The latest data now shows that those who had a previous COVID-19 infection have a "good degree of protection" that lasts for months, but it's unknown exactly how long each person's protection lasts or their degree of protection. Getting vaccinated cuts a person's risk of getting another infection by half, according to Vinik.
Latest Utah data
School-age children accounted for 392 of Wednesday's cases — 190 cases were ages 5-10, 76 were ages 11-13, and 126 were ages 14-17, the Utah Department of Health said in a daily update.
Health care workers in Utah administered 10,568 vaccine doses since the previous day, bringing total doses given to 3,586,076.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 12.6 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 11.1 times greater risk of being hospitalized, and 6.3 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, state health officials said.
Since Feb. 1, unvaccinated residents are at 9.1 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 7.6 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and four times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated residents, according to the state data.
Of the cases reported Wednesday, 377 were confirmed as "breakthrough" cases, meaning they had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks ago. The state also confirmed 17 new breakthrough hospitalizations and nine breakthrough deaths, according to the data.
State health officials and doctors have noted receiving the vaccine does not mean someone will not contract the coronavirus, but in most cases it is protective against serious illness. The vaccine also does not cause a person to get COVID-19.
Since vaccines became available to the public early this year, the state has confirmed 22,181 breakthrough cases, 1,123 breakthrough hospitalizations and 152 breakthrough deaths.
Two previously reported deaths were removed from the state tally, the health department said.
The latest deaths include:
- Two Washington County men between the ages of 65 and 84, who were hospitalized when they died.
- A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Utah County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
- A Utah County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Two Salt Lake County men, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
- Two Salt Lake County women, older than 85, long-term care facility residents.
- A Box Elder County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Sanpete County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
- A Tooele County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Davis County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Weber County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.