Summit County is seeing ‘second wave’ of the coronavirus pandemic, health director says
Summit County’s top public health official Monday reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic is trending in the wrong direction locally, calling the county’s first coronavirus-related death a turning point and saying the advantage the county had after suppressing the pandemic early on had disappeared.
“The notion of this surging around us is no longer accurate. It’s here. It’s surging here. It’s especially important for the community to recognize that,” Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said. “… (W)e’re seeing a second wave in Summit County.”
Bullough delivered a status update to the Summit County Board of Health Monday evening, reporting that the county is experiencing roughly the same number of new cases daily as the rest of the state when the numbers are adjusted for population. On Monday, the county reported 15 new cases, the most in a single day since April 9 and the second time in four days that the tally reached double digits. This comes after weeks of relatively low case growth compared to parts of the state where the coronavirus has been surging for some time.
“The notion that we are significantly better off than the state doesn’t hold true,” he told the board.
Still, he said the county’s position is far better than it was earlier this spring when the daily growth in new cases was one of the highest in the nation on a per-capita basis.
“I’m not saying this to make people fearful, I’m saying this to remind people to wear masks, (maintain social distance and practice good hygiene),” Bullough said.
Bullough stressed that keeping the economy open is a key goal of the public health response, saying the Health Department isn’t focused on eradicating the disease in the community but rather mitigating its effects. Mandating masks while in public, which the county did June 27, was designed to allow businesses to remain open safely, he said.
“We’re looking for a balancing point (to) manage the disease, not necessarily control it. It’s going to be in our communities for some time,” he said. “Balance that management against the economy and keeping businesses open. Again, that’s why we believe masks are so important.”
According to Bullough’s presentation, roughly 18 of every 100,000 Utahns were being diagnosed with COVID-19 daily as of July 4. In Summit County, that number is nearly 17 per 100,000 residents after a week of sharp increases starting around June 27.
The mask mandate took effect a week before the Fourth of July, a celebration Bullough said likely increased the spread of COVID-19. He said data from the mask mandate will likely be reflected in case numbers starting next week, but that he expects it will be counteracted by a spike brought on by the holiday.
If the county avoids a significant surge in cases related to the Fourth, he’d consider that a success, he wrote in an email to The Park Record.
While the county’s daily case growth mirror the state’s, Bullough said the story told by the data indicates differences in how the disease’s spread has been handled.
The state saw slow but steady growth in active cases followed by a recent acceleration starting at the end of May. A case is considered recovered, and removed from active numbers, if the person has not died within three weeks of the initial diagnosis.
The state numbers continued to rise quickly through June and, as of early July, there were roughly 233 active cases of COVID-19 for every 100,000 Utahns.
In Summit County, however, an initial spike was curtailed as restrictive measures including a stay-at-home order took hold and the number of active cases per 100,000 residents slowly fell until around Memorial Day. The curve was flattened to a low of 33 active cases per 100,000 Summit County residents June 1, according to Bullough’s presentation.
The number of active cases in Summit County grew then plateaued before starting to quickly grow at the end of last month, hitting a population-adjusted high of about 126 on July 3, indicating what Bullough called a second wave of the virus. As of Monday, Bullough said there were 90 active cases in Summit County, and the county experienced its first coronavirus-related death July 2. Bullough said the man was significantly older than 65 and had been hospitalized and battling the disease for some time.
Summit County still has some advantages compared to the rest of the state, according to the presentation. The number of new cases per 100,000 residents is about half the state’s average, and the county retains hospital capacity both inside the county and in the larger health care networks that serve it. The percentage of positive tests is also better than the state’s, though still higher than state-set goals. Between 4% and 5% of tests in Summit County are positive for COVID-19, whereas that number is between 9% and 10% statewide.
But Bullough said the county’s numbers might be merely lagging behind the state’s and could soon worsen.
Summit County is required to seek an exemption from Gov. Gary Herbert to implement stricter public health measures than those in place at the state level, like the mask mandate.
Bullough said a request to shift back into the orange phase would likely be denied by the Governor’s Office, but added that such a move wasn’t warranted by the data and is not something the county is seeking.
His overall message was to encourage members of the public to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
“The trends are not, I mean, they are not good,” Bullough said. “There’s no other way to couch this.”
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