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Utah may be nearing its peak in the omicron surge that’s driven coronavirus case counts to their highest level on record. But state health experts said Wednesday it’s hard to know for sure.
In areas that saw early omicron surges — including New York, Rhode Island, South Africa and Great Britain — case counts started to trend downward after a period of about three weeks, said Erin Clouse, University of Utah Health’s strategic engagement manager.
“In Utah, we’ve seen about 20 days of steady increases in cases,” Clouse said Wednesday, “so there may be some hope on the horizon that case counts may start to come down soon.”
However, areas where the omicron variant’s spread appears to be waning all have populations with “much higher vaccination rates,” cautioned Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at U. of U. Health.
“We don’t have any good data yet on a poorly vaccinated population,” Pavia continued. “And the population of Utah is not well vaccinated.”
According to the Utah Department of Health, 59% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.
Pavia also urged caution because Utah has “maxed out” its testing capacity. State leaders including Gov. Spencer Cox on Friday advised most Utahns not to get tested for COVID-19, citing limited testing supplies, though state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen noted older people and those with underlying conditions should still get tested.
“So the case numbers may not be as accurate an indicator as we want them to be,” Pavia said Wednesday.
The Health Department on Wednesday reported 12,564 new coronavirus cases. That’s the third-highest daily case count since the pandemic began, and it marked the seventh time in the past nine days that a daily tally has exceeded 10,000 cases. (The record high was before last week was 4,706 in December 2020.)
The rolling seven-day average of new cases continues to rise, reaching an all-time high Wednesday of 10,967. Before last week, the highest that figure had ever been was 3,392, reported in November 2020.
Dr. Andrew Vinik, the chief medical operations officer at U. of U. Health, on Wednesday also noted there may be a high prevalence of asymptomatic cases in Utah.
“Last week, we’re at about 12 percent,” he said, meaning that “one in eight people that you might come across in any given day likely has COVID and doesn’t even know.”
Pavia on Wednesday said the University of Utah Hospital was at 100% capacity “despite us cutting back on non-time-sensitive procedures.”
“And so patients are suffering. … Why? Because we have so many patients that need care and we’ve got less staff,” he said.
Pavia noted more than 80% of the people in the hospital right now, including children, are unvaccinated. “Vaccination could prevent a lot of these hospitalizations,” he said.
Statewide, hospitals remain near capacity, and the number of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients — 715 — is the highest it’s been since the pandemic began. Before last week, the highest hospitalization count on a single day was 606 patients in December 2020.
At that time, more patients required intensive care: 213, versus the 202 patients with COVID-19 in Utah’s ICUs as of Wednesday. But hospital staffing is tighter now than it was in 2020, Utah hospital administrators have said.
ICUs in the state’s larger, “referral” hospitals are now at 92.1% capacity — above the 85% threshold that hospital administrators have said is necessary to leave room for unpredictable staffing levels, new patients and availability of specialized equipment and personnel.
Statewide, 88.7% of all ICU beds are filled. The health department on Wednesday also reported 18 more COVID-19 deaths.
“What we know about omicron is that it’s much more infectious,” Pavia said Wednesday. Its spread is “having an impact on us,” he continued. “On you and me. On the health care system. On police, fire, emergency services. On stocking of grocery stores and clearing of streets, unlike anything we’ve seen throughout the pandemic.”
“So we really shouldn’t have any sense that this, because it is a little bit less severe, is not causing massive disruption,” he said.
Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 2,330 of the new cases announced Wednesday — 18.5% of the total. There were 887 cases reported in children aged 5-10; 552 cases in children 11-13; and 891 cases in children 14-18.
The number of children getting vaccinated continues to climb: 110,555 children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose since they became eligible. That is 30.3% of kids that age in Utah, according to the health department. And 77,582 of those kids have been fully vaccinated — 21.3% of that age group.
Find where to get vaccinated at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.
Find where to get tested at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations.
Breakdown of updated figures
Vaccine doses administered in the past four days/total doses administered • 7,381 / 4,730,613.
Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,932,018 — 59% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 1,360 in the past day.
Cases reported in the past day • 12,564.
Vaccination status • Health officials do not immediately have or release the vaccination status of individuals who test positive, who are hospitalized, or who die. They do calculate the overall risk ratios of these outcomes depending on vaccination status, which is listed below.
Tests reported in the past day • 21,616 people were tested for the first time. A total of 45,029 people were tested.
Deaths reported in the past four days • 18.
There were five deaths in Salt Lake County — a man and a woman between the ages of 45-64, a man and a woman 65-84, and a woman 85 or older.
Weber County reported four deaths — three men 65-84, and a man 85 or older.
There were three deaths in Utah County — a man and a woman 65-84, and a man 85 or older. There were also three deaths in Weber County — a man and a woman 65-84, and a man 85 or older.
And three counties each reported a single death — a Cache County woman 65-84; a Davis County man 85 or older; and a Uintah County woman 65-84.
Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 715 That is 34 more than reported on Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 190 are in intensive care — eight more than reported on Monday.
Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 51.1% in the past day. That is higher than the seven-day average of 41.6%.
The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Wednesday’s rate was 26.4%, higher than the seven-day average of 29.2%.
Risk ratios • In the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns were 12.5 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were six times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.
Totals to date • 802,780 cases; 3,997 deaths; 29,649 hospitalizations; 4,633,563 people tested.