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We've never had more COVID patients than we do now, Utah doctor says

David McKay administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a 12-year-old boy at Rose Park Elementary in Salt Lake City on Sept. 22, 2021. An infection disease physician on Wednesday urged Utahns to keep in mind their personal risk due to COVID-19 when deciding whether to attend Thanksgiving gatherings.

David McKay administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a 12-year-old boy at Rose Park Elementary in Salt Lake City on Sept. 22, 2021. An infection disease physician on Wednesday urged Utahns to keep in mind their personal risk due to COVID-19 when deciding whether to attend Thanksgiving gatherings. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — With Thanksgiving almost here, an infection disease physician on Wednesday urged Utahns to keep in mind their personal risk due to COVID-19 when deciding whether to attend gatherings.

Dr. Brandon Webb with Intermountain Healthcare said the death rate in Utah — which continues to confirm upward of 10 deaths each day — correlates with high community transmission rates.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the state confirmed 1,804 new COVID-19 cases and 13 more deaths. Utah hospitals are treating 530 patients with the coronavirus, according to the Utah Department of Health, with referral intensive care units that can treat the most serious patients 94.5% full. Overall ICU use stands at 91.3%, and non-ICUs are 64.5% full.

Currently, Intermountain COVID-hub hospitals are at nearly 100% of ICU capacity, with several large hospitals above capacity, Webb said. The system is at a level of COVID-19 occupancy similar to the record seen last December.

"So we are bursting at the seams. We've never had more COVID patients at the hospital than we do now," Webb said.

The rolling, seven-day average for new cases in Utah is 1,480 per day, and the average positive rate of those tested is 16.5%.

Webb said hospital systems are working with the Utah Department of Health to understand who is dying of COVID-19. Currently, the composition of patients who have died includes about 80% who were unvaccinated and 20% who were vaccinated but still suffered breakthrough infections, Webb said.

In those with breakthrough infections, there's a high rate of "medical complexity," according to the doctor, as many of those patients have at least four chronic medical conditions like asthma, emphysema, obesity or heart disease. Up to one-third of those patients are also immunocompromised and don't respond well to the vaccine, he said.

"For me, the big takeaway point from what we're experiencing, in terms of lives lost, is we really need people to understand their risk and their risk factors," Webb said.

Adults with chronic medical conditions or a body mass index over 30 are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, as well as the need for hospitalization and ventilation.

"That's the reality, and it's that population that we really feel strongly about advocating for vaccination," Webb said, adding that the benefits for those most at-risk outweigh the "rare" side effects of vaccination.

With other viruses also circulating in the community, Webb urged those who experience any respiratory symptoms to get tested early — it's no longer sufficient to let an illness "run its course" as it was before the pandemic.

People who have been vaccinated but still contract COVID-19 tend to experience upper respiratory symptoms including runny nose and sore throat at the start of their infection, Webb said. Other viruses in the community cause similar symptoms, Webb added, encouraging people going into holidays to get tested frequently if they or their loved ones are starting to develop those symptoms.

"And then make wise decisions from there. If you're sick, stay home, stay away from individuals who could have severe disease," Webb said.

While planning Thanksgiving gatherings, families need to consider their family makeup and the risk to each person who will be there. Sick family members, or those especially at risk, should "sit this one out," Webb advised.

He encourages residents to hold Thanksgiving gatherings in well-ventilated areas and limit group size when possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks inside when social distancing isn't feasible, Webb noted, but a holiday based around eating makes that difficult.

Latest Utah data

Of the cases confirmed Wednesday, 394 were school-age children — 229 cases were ages 5-10, 83 cases were 11-13, and 82 cases were 14-17, according to the state health department.

Health care workers administered another 20,660 vaccine doses since the previous day's report, bringing total doses given in Utah to 4,082,308.

Breakthrough cases — meaning those who had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks prior — accounted for 491 of the cases reported Wednesday. Two of the 13 deaths were also confirmed as breakthrough.

Now 39,930 breakthrough cases have been confirmed since vaccines became available earlier this year. That is about 6.8% of the 589,715 total cases in Utah since the start of the pandemic in spring of 2020. That state has also confirmed 214 breakthrough deaths — or about 6.2% — of the 3,470 who have died due to COVID-19.

The latest deaths include:

  • A Cache County man, older than 85, who was not hospitalized when he died
  • A Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized
  • A Davis County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident
  • A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, hospitalized
  • A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, not hospitalized
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident
  • Two Utah County men, 65-84, both hospitalized
  • A Utah County man, 25-44, hospitalized
  • A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized
  • A Washington County man, 45-64, hospitalized
  • A Weber County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident
  • A Weber County woman, 65-84, hospitalized

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