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SOUTH SALT LAKE — The top health official in Utah's most-populated county is shaking up her COVID-19 prevention recommendations as the rate of new cases continues to fall to pre-omicron surge levels statewide.
Dr. Angela Dunn, Salt Lake County Health Department director, unveiled a new set of recommendations Monday following changes announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.
The Utah Department of Health on Monday reported 896 new cases of COVID-19 statewide since Friday, as well as three new deaths.
"We have definitely seen a drastic decline in the right direction and now's the time to start rolling back some of these guidelines — at least for the near-term," Dunn said, during a briefing about her decision Monday afternoon.
Dunn's recommendations focus more on vaccination status and less on the wide-scale use of masks. For instance, Dunn says residents should be "up to date" with getting the COVID-19 vaccine, such as getting a booster shot when eligible.
Residents are also encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition and regular exercise. In addition, anyone who experiences COVID-19 symptoms should continue to isolate themselves.
"Our COVID isolation guidance has not changed," she explained. "So if you have symptoms consistent to COVID, stay home for five days and then wear a mask in public for an additional five days."
New COVID-19 cases in Utah are back to where they were before the dramatic spike of omicron-variant cases that began in late December and peaked in mid-January. Utah's seven-running average of new cases is now 438 cases from the peak in January, which topped out at close to 11,000 cases per day.
That's also true of Salt Lake County, where the rate of new COVID-19 cases dropped from nearly 4,500 new cases per day at its peak in January, to 200 new cases countywide this week. The seven-day average of new hospitalizations in the county is now nine, compared to 53 in January.
Salt Lake County is now considered to be in a "medium" transmission level, per CDC standards. That means residents are encouraged to decide whether they should wear a mask based on their own risk of serious COVID-19 infection or the risk of someone close to them.
High-filtration masks are still recommended indoors for people with "certain personal circumstances." Dunn explains that could mean a family member, co-worker or close friend that might be at a higher risk for serious illness.
While the changes announced over the past few days are a big shift since the pandemic began, Dunn warned it's possible the recommendations can be adjusted in the future, especially given the unpredictability the coronavirus has created over the past two years.
I can't promise there won't be another wave, another surge, another variant that causes us to change our COVID recommendations once again.
–Dr. Angela Dunn
"I can't promise there won't be another wave, another surge, another variant that causes us to change our COVID recommendations once again," she said. "However, I can promise we are staying on top of the latest science and the latest variants across the country and world to make sure we can continue giving you the best information and the best advice for you to keep yourself and your loved ones safe."
The changes also come after Gov. Spencer Cox, on Feb. 18, said Utah is ready to move its COVID-19 response to a "steady state," with less urgency. The state health department will transition all COVID-19 testing to health care systems by the end of March as part of that transition.
Dunn adds testing — including at-home testing — and treatment will continue to be important in containing any future community spread of COVID-19. Residents who experience COVID-19 symptoms are asked to seek testing or otherwise remain at home to reduce the risk of a future outbreak like the recent omicron surge.
Anyone at high risk for serious illness are also encouraged to seek treatment early if they test positive, Dunn said. People with the highest risks may qualify for monoclonal antibodies or antiviral medication treatments right away.
As Utah nears its two-year anniversary of its first COVID-19 case, Dunn said she does hope that the pandemic experience changes how people view public health and the way they treat viral illnesses.
"One of the things that I hope lasts from this pandemic is our awareness of our symptoms and our desire to not get our colleagues, coworkers and family members sick, whether it's COVID, the common cold or the flu," she said.
Utah reports 896 new cases, 3 new deaths since Friday
Of the 896 new COVID-19 cases reported Monday, 433 are from Friday, 336 are from Saturday and the remaining 176 are from Sunday. School-age children account for 105 of the new cases, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The update shows how the number of COVID-19 cases continues to drop statewide. The state's seven-day average for percent positivity using the "people over people" method is now 15.4%, falling from a peak of 47.4% on Jan. 21.
All three of the new deaths reported Monday were patients who were hospitalized at the time of their deaths, including:
- An Iron County woman between the ages of 65 and 84.
- A Salt Lake County man between the ages of 65 and 84.
- A Utah County woman between the ages of 65 and 84.
Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 also continues to fall statewide. There are currently 326 people hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19, 46 fewer than on Friday.
The percentage of intensive care unit beds occupied statewide is now below the utilization warning threshold of 72% as the number of ICU beds needed for COVID-19 patients falls. There are currently 73 patients in ICU beds because of COVID-19.
The state also reported 4,877 new vaccinations over the weekend. Nearly 75% of all Utahns 5 and older have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while about 66% are considered fully vaccinated. Close to one-third of all Utahns 12 and older have received a booster dose.
Contributing: Winston Armani