Summit County moves into higher level of state’s COVID index
“Moderate” transmission level resumed after “low” level was declared May 27
Summit County has moved to a heightened level of COVID transmissibility, state officials declared Thursday, the first hitch in the local pandemic recovery after months of progress that includes the best vaccination rate in the state.
The county moved to the “moderate” level of a state measure of the transmissibility of COVID-19, the middle of three categories on the so-called transmission index.
The designation does not come with public health-related restrictions, like reducing the capacity of bars and restaurants or limiting gatherings.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said there are about four new cases of COVID-19 in the county occurring each day.
“I think the practical message for us is that we’re still doing pretty well as the state is seeing a real significant surge,” Bullough said.
While case numbers are generally good in the county, Bullough said, he is concerned with the Delta variant, a more transmissible mutant of the virus that causes COVID-19 and one that renders vaccines less effective. He said officials estimate more than 80% of the state’s cases at this point are caused by the variant.
“It’s definitely driving the surge statewide,” he said.
He said a majority of cases in Summit County involve unvaccinated children and some of them are falling seriously ill.
There are no vaccines approved for use in children younger than 12.
“I’m very concerned about the upcoming school year,” he said.
Bullough said health officials were meeting with the superintendents of area school districts to formulate a plan for the year.
The state’s transmission index is based on three metrics: how many cases are present in a county; the percentage of COVID tests that are positive in that county; and the remaining capacity of intensive-care units in the state’s hospitals.
The county had been in the low category since May 27. It improved from high to moderate on March 18, a change that ended distancing and capacity restrictions in bars and restaurants.
No such restrictions accompany the recent move back to moderate, however.
“Once the public health orders expired the transmission index essentially became an advisory-only tool,” said Tom Hudachko, a Utah Department of Health spokesperson.
The largest factor driving the designation change is the statewide utilization of hospital intensive-care units. According to the transmission index, ICUs statewide are 77% full, and COVID-19 ICU utilization is 17.3%. Both are designated as “high” levels.
If a county has one of the other two metrics higher than the low category, the county is then moved to that designation.
As of Friday, 12 counties are in the high level of transmission, 10 are in moderate and seven are in low, according to the Utah Department of Health.
In 11 of the 12 counties in the high designation, the department said, less than 60% of the adult population has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Summit County, 85% of vaccine-eligible people have had at least one shot, while 76% are fully vaccinated.
The county’s 14-day case rate per 100,000 people is 109.15, which is in the moderate category. Its ratio of COVID tests that are positive for the disease is 4.5%, which places it in the low category.
“Our numbers still look pretty good, and if the statewide ICU numbers had not shifted, had not increased, we would still be in low,” Bullough said.
While he said the COVID situation locally is generally good, Bullough stopped short of saying the designation change did not reflect the situation.
“I think we need to take it seriously, in part because we’re not isolated,” he said. “We’ve argued all along this is more of a regional response. That’s why we need to consider regional and systemic ICU capacity. We’re part of that. … We are part of the system and we depend on it.”
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The Summit County Fair returns this week.