Respiratory illnesses are creeping up in Summit County

COVID, flu and RSV case counts are down compared to this time last year, but it’s still early in the season

The Summit County Health Department.
Park Record file photo by Tanzi Propst

The increasingly common sounds of sniffling, sneezing and coughing go off like a warning bell alerting the community that cold and flu season is here.

Officials with the Summit County Health Department have started to see an increase in influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and coronavirus cases this fall. Although the numbers are lower than this time last year, it’s still early in the season.

“That’s kind of a good thing because we’re not seeing the spike we saw last year. We saw a really steep increase in flu cases and this year, we’re not seeing that yet. It’s really early to see what it’s going to do,” said Nancy Porter, an epidemiologist with the Health Department. 

The coronavirus pandemic affected the seasonality of respiratory illnesses, which means health experts aren’t quite sure what to expect this year. Porter said the viruses could appear as steep, narrow curves or they could be drawn out over a longer period as was common before 2020.

Officials anticipate the flu will have a delayed start as the virus transitions back to a more traditional season this year. The virus tends to peak between October and February before tapering off in the spring, around April.

RSV cases are low in Summit County and Utah overall. Cases surged last year and officials anticipated this year would be milder. The virus tends to start in the south before spreading out across the nation. Georgia and Tennessee have high rates of RSV and correlated hospitalizations, but Porter said those places could be anomalies.

“It’s not what we were expecting,” she said. “We have a new vaccine that’s available and people’s immune systems are starting to kind of bounce back a little now that we’re not all inside anymore. … It’s definitely going to be a kind of wait-and-see.”

The vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May as a way to improve protections for babies and adults 60 and over. However, the uptake isn’t as high as officials would like to see.

COVID-19 is also still present in the community despite only a few reported cases — likely because of the reductions in testing. There were 19 cases as of Nov. 14 compared to 44 in 2022, 160 in 2021, and 180 in 2020. 

Emergency department visits are still low for the three respiratory illnesses with COVID making up the highest percentage.

Porter hopes the new Health Department dashboard will help the community compare seasons and understand respiratory illness trends. Data is collected from laboratory testing, such as doctors’ offices, and compiled into graphs comparing the past five seasons. 

She said case counts should be taken lightly because they only show a sliver of the whole picture. Dashboard cases could be an indicator the severity of the viruses is increasing if people are sick enough to go to the doctor for testing. 

Officials also rely on wastewater data to determine COVID-19 transmission. Concentrations have been creeping up in Summit County, and the rest of Utah. More than 90% of all wastewater sites are listed as elevated or under watch, according to Porter.

“Here’s a way to kind of verify where we stand with that. It separates information out in a little bit more usable and digestible format,” she said.

A screenshot of the Summit County Health Department data dashboard on Nov. 17 details the COVID, flu and RSV case counts dating back to 2019.
Summit County Health Department Data Dashboard screenshot

The dashboard breaks down case counts by age and incident rate, which helps people determine their risk level. This can help inform decision making such as whether to wear a mask or receive a booster shot. It’s updated every week.

Community members are also invited to self-report, but the information is not included on the dashboard. Porter looks at this information to gauge the local trends. It’s also useful during the ski season, when more tourists are in town because it can capture nonresident data.

Health officials advise each individual to consider their personal risk reduction when making holiday plans or traveling. Testing is also important to gather transmission information and help stop the spread.

The Health Department provides several immunizations, including the most recent coronavirus booster, at its locations in Park City, Coalville and Kamas. Porter said fewer people are opting for vaccinations than in the past.

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