Coronavirus growth rate ‘mild’ in Summit County, but officials say flattening the curve remains critical
The number of coronavirus patients in Summit County increased to 35 by Friday afternoon in the week-plus since the first case was announced March 11, a level of growth county health officials are characterizing as mild despite continuing concern about the possibility of widespread transmission in the community.
“When you look at the evidence that has occurred in other areas, our growth has been very mild,” said Phil Bondurant, Summit County’s deputy health director on Wednesday. “You look at a community like Park City where it’s kind of close quarters, people know each other, it’s very social. I don’t think we’re necessarily in a position to make a prediction about what is or what is not going to happen, but we’re very happy with our efforts.”
Health officials have expected the number of cases to rise since the COVID-19 virus appeared in the area. They indicated residents should anticipate a further increase, particularly after the first instance of community spread in the area was confirmed March 13.
That occurrence, involving a doorman at the Spur Bar and Grill on Main Street, marked a turning point in the Summit County Health Department’s response to the outbreak. On March 15, Health Director Rich Bullough issued a sweeping order forcing the closure of many businesses where people gather like gyms and movie theaters and imposing significant restrictions on others, such as restaurants, which are now allowed only to provide delivery, curbside or drive-through service.
Bondurant said discussions about imposing such an order began behind the scenes weeks before the coronavirus appeared in Summit County, calling the first case of community spread the “trigger point” for enacting the restrictions.
“We weren’t going to wait until we hit 100 cases or 150 cases,” he said. “It was, ‘As soon as we know that we have community spread and the Department of Health has confirmed that, we’re going to act.’”
The measures, which include requiring ski areas to close — a step Park City’s resorts took voluntarily before the order was issued — are certain to have a debilitating effect on the area’s economy in the short-term. And many workers, seasonal and otherwise, now find themselves without a source of income.
Bondurant said health officials acknowledge the steep price imposed on the business community but added that the measures are necessary to “flatten the curve,” or ensure the number of cases in the county doesn’t rapidly spike and overwhelm the health care system.
“If it works, people are going to think we overreacted,” he said. “… Well, there’s no way to really measure that. But we will definitely know if we underreacted. In public health, you make your decisions based on what’s going to have the greatest impact on disease transmission. And we think that at this point we have done that.”
Despite being encouraged by the relatively mild level of growth, health officials say the number of cases in Summit County compared to other parts of the state underscores the risk of inaction. As of Thursday evening, Summit County had 33% of the total cases in Utah and more than 20 times that of Salt Lake County on a per-capita basis.
That’s why the Health Department continues to urge residents to sanitize commonly touched items, practice social distancing and monitor themselves for symptoms consistent with the coronavirus like fever, cough and respiratory problems.
The county will also consider tweaking the restrictions included in the public health order as the situation evolves. Bullough is set to reevaluate the order in late March and may elect to remove or reduce the restrictions, increase them or leave them as-is.
“The last thing we want,” Bondurant said, “is to have this blow up and have us become the center of this.”
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The Park City Police Department last week and early this week received several reports of parties, a common complaint to the agency during busy times of the ski season. The cases did not appear to be serious, but they seem to show an uptick in activity in the community.