Has the omicron surge peaked in Summit County? Data shows reasons for optimism. | ParkRecord.com

Has the omicron surge peaked in Summit County? Data shows reasons for optimism.

Case counts remain elevated above previous highs, however

Meta Haley administers a COVID-19 vaccine at the Utah Film Studios, which Summit County utilized as a drive-thru vaccination clinic, last winter. Daily case counts indicate the omicron surge may have peaked in the county, and officials say the high vaccination rate is one reason cases could decline quicker than in other areas.
Park Record file photo

Daily coronavirus case counts in Summit County appear to be heading downward, and with a few other indicators validating the data, public health officials are optimistic the trend can be sustained.

Although confirmed cases in the county have continued to exceed the single-day record prior to the current surge, 79, set in January 2021, a look at the recent overall data indicates Summit County may have reached the peak of the omicron wave.

Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant said there are theories in the community that the decline is artificial because visitors, not residents, are testing positive for COVID and their cases are being reported in their home counties rather than locally, as well as that case numbers are falling due to a testing slowdown.

“In some of the research I’ve done, there’s maybe some truth to that, but we also have other indicators that we use to validate whether the decline is real or not,” he said.

One such benchmark involves inspecting wastewater. Boundurant said the Health Department partners with Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to monitor COVID in wastewater samples that come through the plant.

The data shows that the number of viral particles in each sample is decreasing, similar to what public health officials are seeing in the case counts.

“Does that mean that this is a sustained decline? Only time will tell with that,” Boundurant said. “With our high vaccination rates and a community that’s committed to being safe, I would estimate that our trend would go downward quicker than other areas.”

Health officials are hesitant to make predictions because of how quickly things can change with COVID, but he said the current trend appears favorable.

“When we look at this, we look at the individuals that are here: that live here, that work here, that visit here. COVID is still present in our community. Whether or not it is on the forefront of everyone’s tongue, we still have the obligation in public health to manage this to the best of our ability to keep our community safe,” said Bondurant.

Although state testing resources are at capacity, not much has changed at the local level.

Bondurant said that the Summit County Health Department planned ahead for testing resources as soon as officials realized the omicron variant could fuel a potential surge. The department acted quickly to secure “quite a few” tests for the community.

And while there isn’t a lack of tests locally, Bondurant said there is a shortage of people to keep testing going. The Health Department relies on volunteers and the Utah National Guard for assistance but recognizes those groups are in high demand. The Health Department currently does testing on Monday and Tuesday as well as Wednesday with the help of a government contract which ends later this month.

In November, the Health Department began working to secure a third-party testing agency that would provide testing five days a week in Summit County for six months. The initiative is slated to begin on Jan. 26 and will run for eight hours a day at the start.

Bondurant said Summit County is testing at a higher rate compared to other counties, but he’s aware of community concerns regarding long wait times occurring here and throughout the state.

“We’ve been that way for the past month and it’s not perfect, we acknowledge that. Resources are thin. Tests are thin,” he said. “But we have been able to maintain a level of testing that allows us to have a good understanding of what disease transmission in our community looks like.”

Although there is a relatively small population of people in Summit County who aren’t fully vaccinated — only 14% of eligible residents have not completed a vaccination series — they are accounting for half or more of all confirmed COVID cases.

Bondurant said health experts have learned that everyone is at risk of catching the omicron variant because of how transmissible it is, but individuals who are fully vaccinated and boosted have a better outcome.

“When we talk about why there’s more, we’ve always known that the most vulnerable populations are the ones that are going to contract COVID-19. That’s been a given from day one,” he said. “We know that those who are vaccinated and boosted are no longer, generally speaking, they are no longer the unprotected group or the at-risk group. It’s the unvaccinated that are at the risk of contracting COVID. When we look at that, the vulnerable group at the greatest risk is the unvaccinated because the body doesn’t have the necessary tools to manage an infection.”

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