Health impacts of lifting Summit County’s stay-at-home order still unclear
Friday marked two weeks since Summit County lifted its stay-at-home order, businesses began to reopen and the economy began a slow move toward recovery.
As counties around the state further eased restrictions according to state guidelines, local health officials said robust data was not yet available about how allowing the area’s businesses to reopen has affected the spread of COVID-19.
Because of the virus’ incubation period, County Nursing Director Carolyn Rose said, the earliest that useful data could come in about the effects of the eased restrictions was late in the week, information she said is key in judging whether the reopening has been accomplished safely.
Rose said it would likely take about two to four weeks from when the stay-at-home order was lifted May 1 to see how the move affected the number of new infections — and it could be longer than that. As of Friday, there have been 396 confirmed coronavirus cases in the county, and there has not been a surge in known infections since the beginning of the month.
“Most likely right now our best indication (the reopening was done safely) would be if we don’t see an increase in cases,” Rose said. “If we just see a bump in cases then we’ll know.”
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In light of the dearth of data, Summit County received permission from the state to remain at the moderate-risk level of the pandemic response for one week while most of Utah moves into the low-risk phase Saturday.
The one-week exemption allows the county to place stricter measures on restaurants, gyms, hotels and other high-risk businesses. A health order approved Thursday to keep the county in the moderate-risk phase is slated to expire May 22, roughly three weeks after the stay-at-home order was lifted.
In an ideal world, Rose said, the Health Department would be able to test everyone who visited newly opened businesses, but there aren’t enough tests for that.
“Yeah that would be great — the problem is there’s not that many tests available. We keep getting told there’s plenty of tests but people are getting turned away from testing sites,” Rose said. “The more testing we get, the better off we’ll be.”
The drive-through testing site at Park City Hospital does not test asymptomatic people, something officials have said would be helpful in determining the spread of the disease.
County Health Director Rich Bullough has said that demand at the facility has declined, but that the health care systems that run it have committed to keeping it open as long as necessary.
When a positive case is discovered, the county and state have implemented expanded contact tracing protocols, Rose said, targeting people who have been in contact with an infected person over the prior seven days rather than the 48-hour period that had been used initially.
A “contact” is someone who’s been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 10 minutes in the previous week, Rose said.
County officials conduct the initial interviews with infected people, which are used to determine those contacts and where the person has been. The case is then turned over to state health officials who communicate with the contacts and instruct them to be tested.
Rose said the county is working with Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health to ensure those contacts can be tested.
The interviews might yield instructive information, Rose said. If a group of people has visited the same business, for example, the Health Department could investigate and work to make that business safer.
Though nasal-swab tests are not being used in the county to test whether asymptomatic people are infected, antibody tests have recently become widely available if a person receives a doctor’s order. The test shows whether a person has been exposed to COVID-19, though experts say it’s unclear what the presence of antibodies means for the person’s immunity going forward. The tests cost around $40 and more health insurance companies are starting to pay for them, Rose said.
The University of Utah included Summit County as one of the communities in an antibody study that recently completed its first phase. Researchers conducted nasal-swab tests, antibody tests and detailed questionnaires.
Rose said that, while all data is useful, it’s probably too early for widespread antibody testing to help in the local fight against the pandemic until the impact of the presence of antibodies is more widely understood through studies like that one.
Instead, she advised that people stick to the hygiene and distancing guidelines health officials have long advocated.
“Stay away from people, wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing,” Rose said. “That’s the best you can do.”
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