Summit County respiratory illnesses are increasing – but still lower than the holidays |

Summit County respiratory illnesses are increasing – but still lower than the holidays

The Health Department reported 30 new coronavirus cases this week compared to 16 last week

Main Street was crowded during the fifth day of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Summit County Health officials report an increase in respiratory illnesses in the wake of the film festival, but said one event isn’t the cause.
David Jackson/Park Record

Respiratory illnesses are up in Summit County across the board, but still lower than what health officials saw during the holiday season.

The Sundance Film Festival kicked off roughly 14 days ago, bringing celebrities and even more crowds to the Park City area. The Summit County Health Department amid the festival announced coronavirus cases were increasing again, though Director Phil Bondurant said the rise isn’t attributed to a particular activity.

“There are a number of [respiratory illnesses] that are circulating in our community. We wanted to make it very clear that exposure to these different things is not specific to one event, but to a variety of events; whether that’s a sporting event that we’re attending, or family parties or social gatherings, even work meetings. There are a number of social factors that are contributing to an increase,” he said.

Health Department staffers, including the new epidemiologist, worked closely with local Sundance leaders ahead of the film festival to provide guidance. Bondurant said organizers – who canceled in-person screenings in 2020 through 2022 – were already prepared with several safety precautions such as requiring masks and weekly COVID tests for staff and volunteers.

Regardless of the precautions, several social factors have led to a rise in COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases across the community in the past week.

The Health Department on Thursday reported 30 new coronavirus cases this week compared to 16 the previous week. Testing positivity also increased from 12% to 15%, and the community level remains low. The figures are lower than what health officials saw late last year but still higher than what’s been reported thus far in 2023.

Influenza cases dropped slightly, from seven confirmed cases last week to four reported on Thursday. RSV cases remained about the same, with four confirmed cases this week and three last week.

Bondurant, however, said that case counts based on COVID testing are no longer an accurate reflection of what’s actually happening in the community. Summit County was among the last in the state to provide COVID testing, but the service is no longer offered as the funding has dried up. Now, most people are relying on home test kits – if they’re testing at all. 

Instead, health officials look at other data such as wastewater and hospitalizations. Wastewater surveillance shows elevated COVID levels in Silver Creek, East Canyon and Coalville. There’s been a plateau in Silver Creek and Coalville, showing that the cases have remained consistent, while East Canyon is increasing, according to the county’s COVID dashboard.

“They’re increased from where we would like them to be, but they’re not increasing at an elevated rate,” Bondurant said.

Hospitalizations in Summit County are low, which means the cases aren’t as severe, according to Bondurant. He said most individuals are seeking supportive care and are discharged with good outcomes. There haven’t been more than two hospitalizations a week since early October. The county also experienced its first COVID-related death in roughly six months in December.

Health officials plan to continue monitoring respiratory illnesses throughout the rest of the cold and flu season, which typically peaks in March and ends in May. Bondurant is particularly curious about RSV cases because, although the virus isn’t new, it appeared sooner.

“What we saw was the rates of RSV that we experienced in the past show up a lot earlier. They showed up in November instead of February. We saw it plateau in November and saw it dip a bit in the remaining months, going back to a manageable level,” Bondurant said. “What we’re watching is to see if that stays like that during the month of February, when historically we’ve seen the most presence of RSV.”

He attributed the decline to people taking social precautions, such as staying home when sick or wearing a mask, to limit exposing themselves or their children to the virus – something everyone should consider with various illnesses and new COVID variants present in the community. Health officials recommend receiving a bivalent booster and flu shot to help protect against disease.

It’ll be hard for county health officials to understand the “breath of Sundance” in terms of the spread of respiratory illnesses because out-of-town visitors who test positive won’t report to Summit County. 

“Things look really good. They did a good job. I commend Sundance. They’ve made some tough decisions in the past and this year wasn’t any different. They made tough decisions again that appear as though we were able to have the festival in as safe a manner as possible,” Bondurant said. “I think we’ll continue to see COVID cases but as long as those hospitalizations aren’t really ramping up, I think we’re kind of at that point where this is the way that we’ve learned to live with it.”

The Health Department provides free at-home test kits at the Quinn’s Junction office.

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