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SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah for the second day in a row obliterated its previous record for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed in a day, hospital officials from across the state pleaded for Utahns to take measures to prevent more spread.
Tracey Nixon, registered nurse and chief nursing officer at University of Utah Health, said staffing at hospitals is "so incredibly limited because of the health care providers and workers who have left health care and their professions altogether."
With increases in staff taking time off work due to COVID-related reasons, she said, "I am unable to care for the patients that we need to."
Another 8,913 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Utah on Thursday. The previous record of 7,247 cases reported Wednesday was nearly double the original one-day case total of about 4,700, set in December 2020.
Nixon said her hospital is turning away transfers, and the emergency department was "overwhelmed" with patients looking for help on Wednesday evening.
"It is a dire time for all of us, for our health care teams in particular, to stand in this space again," Nixon said.
It is a dire time for all of us, for our health care teams in particular, to stand in this space again.
–Tracey Nixon, University of Utah Health chief nursing officer
"We have shifted into a true crisis phase," said Dr. Brandon Webb, infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare, during the virtual news conference.
Just roughly one in 100 people who test positive each day would be able to access specific treatment options like monoclonal antibodies, he added. Hospitals are using crisis standard of care policies to give treatments to patients who need them most. And there isn't the ability to get more of the treatments.
"Unfortunately, what that means, however, is that many patients will not have access to these treatments," Webb said.
Additionally, the Utah Department of Health reported 13 new deaths on Thursday — one of them another child between the ages of 1 and 14 — resulting from the pandemic illness. In all, 3,868 people, including four children, have died in Utah because of COVID-19.
School-aged children accounted for 1,247 of Thursday's newly announced cases, with 401 cases in children ages 5-10, 271 cases in children ages 11-13, and 575 cases in children ages 14-17.
The rolling seven-day average for people testing positive with COVID-19 is now 24%; with more than 16% of all tests ending with positive diagnoses, according to the health department.
"Our testing locations are bursting at the seams. More than 41,000 tests were conducted in the state yesterday. People are spending hours in their vehicles waiting to be tested. If you are seeking out testing, we need your patience," said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director at the Utah Department of Health.
Hospitals are also "bursting at the seams," caring for more patients "with fewer staff than ever because they're out sick or have simply given all that they can possibly give," Hofmann said.
On Thursday, 530 patients were hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19 — an increase of 35 since the previous day. Referral intensive units across the state that can treat the most serious patients were 96.4% full, overall ICU use stood at 94.6%, and nonintensive units were 61.9% full.
Hofmann warned Utahns whose "strategy was to hedge on getting vaccinated" and who thought they could instead seek monoclonal antibody treatments if they get sick: "It is time to rethink your strategy."
Only one of those antibody treatments is effective against omicron, and it is in short supply, Hofmann said.
The antiviral medications are also limited, she said. But vaccines are not in short supply.
"We need more people to start their vaccination series who have not," Hofmann said. "We need everyone who is eligible to get their booster doses now."
Dr. Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer at Steward Healthcare, acknowledged that everyone is experiencing "pandemic fatigue," but none more so than health care workers.
"You are appreciated, you're doing a great job. We're grateful to you and your families," he said, adding that he's sorry they have to witness and be there for so many deaths due to the coronavirus.
"You're truly angels among us," he told health care workers.
The omicron variant is more contagious than others, Jarrett noted, but there is hope it will bring lower hospitalization and death rates than the delta variant. Even so, the number of people infected is so "overwhelming" that it will translate to high increases in hospitalizations and possibly deaths, Jarrett said.
He emphasized that protective measures work. Jarrett pleaded for people to: receive full vaccine doses, including booster shots; wear masks, which decrease spread even against omicron; and, avoid large gatherings but wear masks if you do gather.
The omicron surge is "building up to be far beyond anything that we've seen during this pandemic. These tools work, but we must choose to use them," Jarrett said.
(Omicron is) building up to be far beyond anything that we've seen during this pandemic. These tools work, but we must choose to use them.
–Dr. Arlen Jarrett, Steward Healthcare
Dr. Marion Bishop, emergency department physician at Brigham City Hospital and Cache Valley Hospital with MountainStar Healthcare, said each phase of the pandemic has brought its own challenges. The challenge of omicron hopefully isn't the severity of illness but the sheer number of sick patients.
"The tools we have to fight the virus are not perfect, but they're profoundly helpful," Bishop added.
She said she's taken care of more COVID-19 patients than she can count. She's also treated enough breakthrough infections to say they "are two different illnesses," Bishop said, noting that people who have been vaccinated typically have less severe illness.
"We need your help, and I'm just asking you to bear with us for another short period of time and to give us some support so we will be able to help you," Bishop said.
One of the deaths reported Thursday occurred before Dec. 6. The latest deaths include:
- A Salt Lake County girl between the ages of 1 and 14, who was hospitalized when she died
- A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized
- A Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized
- A Weber County man, 65-84, hospitalized
- A Utah County man, older than 85, unknown if hospitalized
- A Washington County woman, 25-44, hospitalized
- A Utah County woman, 45-64, hospitalized
- A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident
- A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized
- A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, unknown if hospitalized
- A Salt Lake County man, 25-64, unknown if hospitalized