Health officials plead with Utahns to get vaccinated and boosted amid ‘a dire time’
Surge is straining hospitals and supply of COVID-19 treatments
For The Park Record
Health professionals on Thursday pleaded with Utahns to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the number of new cases in the state jumped to record highs and the monoclonal antibodies and antiviral pills available to treat patients dwindled to a critically low level.
“Unfortunately, we’re beginning the new year in a really dire position when it comes to COVID-19,” said Michelle Hofmann, a physician and deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. “If your strategy was to hedge on getting vaccinated and seek treatment with monoclonal antibodies in the event that you test positive, it is time to rethink your strategy.”
Vaccines are the one thing that is not in short supply, and they are the most effective way to prevent cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to Hofmann. She said vaccination also is the best protection against the highly transmissible omicron variant, which has been driving the coronavirus surge.
Hofmann made her comments during an online news conference with other public health and hospital system representatives.
Utah had a record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, then topped that record on Thursday with 8,913 cases and 530 hospitalizations. There were 13 new deaths, which included a child.
A model by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Utah will have 12,600 to 38,800 new cases a day by the end of January, Hofmann said. Hospitals and testing centers already are “bursting at the seams,” she said.
“We’re talking about explosive volumes of cases that overwhelm all of our systems,” Hofmann said.
As of Thursday, there had been 672,567 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, 28,050 hospitalizations and 3,868 deaths. The Utah Department of Health also reported that 2.16 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Of Utahns 18 and older, 71.8% are fully vaccinated with either two doses of vaccine or one if they got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but only 35.5% of them have had their booster shot, Hofmann said.
Preliminary evidence shows that there are far more breakthrough infections among those who are not boosted, she said.
“We need to get all Utahns boosted now if they really want to contribute to reducing the case transmission rates of omicron in our community,” Hofmann said.
As of Thursday, the booster is available to people 12 and older.
Marion Bishop, an emergency department physician who works at Brigham City Hospital and Cache Valley Hospital, said unvaccinated people are about 17 times more likely to die of COVID than vaccinated people.
“There is protection with the vaccine,” she said. “It’s worth getting.”
In addition to getting vaccinated and boosted, physician Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer for Steward Healthcare, encourages people to follow CDC guidelines on wearing masks, avoid large crowds and poorly ventilated places and get tested for COVID.
Tracey Nixon, a registered nurse and chief nursing officer for University of Utah Health, said staffing at the U.’s hospital “is so incredibly limited because of the health care providers and workers that have left the health care and their professions altogether.”
In addition, the number of staff members out sick has led to the closure of hospital beds, “one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made,” Nixon said.
“We are facing shifts where we are so understaffed that our staff are afraid to come to work,” she said. “They’re afraid to be here because they know we do not have the staff available to care for the patients in the way we need.”
Nixon said the hospital is turning transfers away and had to divert ambulances for six hours one night because its emergency department was overwhelmed with patients.
“It is a dire time for all of us,” she said.
Brandon Webb, an infectious disease physician and chair of Intermountain Healthcare’s COVID Therapeutics Committee, said available COVID-19 treatment is so limited that only about one of 100 Utahns a day with new cases would have access to it.
Webb expects there will be a peak in cases in the next two to three weeks but that “when we peak at extraordinary numbers in terms of community transmission, hospitalizations and deaths are a lagging indicator.”
“Although we may see some peak and decline in transmission that may end up being partly because of reaching some degree of herd immunity, it will be at a terrible cost,” he said. “And the cost will be to those who are unvaccinated and unfortunately, to populations who are more vulnerable, immunocompromised or in the highest of the high-risk groups.”
To schedule an appointment for a vaccine or a booster, visit coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution/. Information about getting tested can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations/.
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