Intermountain docs: COVID cases high as Utah heads into winter
Utah is experiencing a near mirror image of the circumstances last year with COVID-19, both in case counts and hospitalizations.
Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare, said during a press conference Wednesday that overall in the state, hospital capacity and occupancy is at a very high level similar to during last winter’s surge. However, this year is different because of the high numbers of respiratory viruses circulating in the community right now.
“We’re already seeing very high rates of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and croup and we’re starting to see influenza,” Webb said. “All of these can cause severe disease in certain patients and can lead to hospitalization and secondary pneumonia.”
Webb said because COVID-19 can have similar symptoms to many other respiratory illnesses, it’s important to test early and test frequently. He said if you have the sniffles, don’t ride it out; make sure you know whether you have COVID or another respiratory virus.
Webb said Utah is currently one of the top 10 hot spots in the nation for COVID-19, with the number of daily cases hovering between 1,100 and 1,400, death rates in the double digits and around 80% of hospitalizations among the unvaccinated. Many breakthrough cases that have taken lives, he said, are among individuals who have at least four chronic medical conditions that include a compromised immune system, heart disease, obesity with a BMI of over 30, asthma, diabetes and emphysema.
“We really need people to understand their risk and risk factors,” Webb said. “Our major COVID hospitals are at 97.8% capacity and several of our large hospitals are well above capacity. We are bursting at the seams. We’ve never had more COVID patients in the hospital than we do now.”
According to the Utah Department of Health, 63% of Utahns have had one dose of the vaccine and 55% are fully vaccinated. Webb said more vaccines will lead to more normalcy and prevent loss of life.
“We’re not at a place right now to where we have enough community immunity to prevent transmission at high levels or to prevent the emergence of new variants and it’s important that we create that buffer so we don’t continue to generate new variants,” he said.
Dr. Tamara Moores Todd, emergency room physician for IHC, said COVID is not one side versus another side.
“It’s not one opinion versus another opinion,” she said. “It’s all of us versus this disease. It’s a combined feeling of both hope, frustration and fear. Every one of the patients I’ve admitted are unvaccinated and quite sick. I just admitted two young unvaccinated patients in their 30s and 40s to the ICU. I fear what will come in the winter for our community and what will happen to my children who are too young to be vaccinated.”