The fall COVID surge has arrived, Summit County’s health director says
The fall coronavirus surge is here, county health officials said Monday, as the increase of cases of COVID-19 in younger populations starts to reach at-risk groups, schools are back in session and winter’s cold approach begins to force people indoors.
“We’re absolutely, 100% in another surge, and it’s the one that has me the most concerned,” Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said in an interview, citing the rising case numbers happening in proximity to colder weather and seasonal influenza season.
He told the Board of Health on Monday that there were 38 new cases in Summit County over the weekend, which came on the heels of steady growth in the rate of new diagnoses of COVID-19 starting in the middle of September.
The county has been largely spared the worst health effects of the virus, with only one death to date and the number of hospitalizations remaining steady for weeks at a time.
But Bullough said Monday the total number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began has climbed to 58, including two active cases and one person in the intensive-care unit.
That isn’t taxing the county’s hospital resources, but is a worrying sign that the increase in spread among younger people has reached older, at-risk populations, Bullough said.
Cases of COVID-19 have been increasing statewide, though the growth had been slower in Summit County. That trend has largely been spurred by younger people, especially those aged 20-24, Bullough has said.
While that age group tends not to get as sick or require hospitalization, spread among younger people increases the chances that those more at risk for serious complications will come into contact with the virus.
Bullough said the lag time between the increase in cases among young people and a rise in hospitalizations corresponds with what state experts expected to see. As the disease spreads among college-aged people, Bullough said, they eventually infect older individuals. The disease incubates for a week or 10 days, then the person feels ill, but it is sometimes another couple of weeks before some of those people require hospitalization.
“This lines up with exactly what we expect,” Bullough said of the increase in hospitalizations. “(Younger people) expose high-risk populations. At some point they end up hospitalized.”
Bullough commended the community’s use of face masks but stressed the importance of social distancing, which he said appears to have fallen by the wayside.
“I want to remind the public and the board and anybody who might be listening that masks help, but they are not the complete answer,” Bullough said Monday. “We need to get back to the idea of social distancing. It’s incredibly important.”
As the county readies for a ski season that offers both the promise of much-needed tourism dollars and also the increased level of risk that visitors bring, the Board of Health heard how officials here are planning to administer a public mass-vaccination campaign that could end the most disruptive effects of the pandemic.
Summit County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Director Chris Crowley offered the most public and detailed plans yet for the vaccination campaign, estimating that the first batch of vaccines could start trickling into Summit County at the end of October.
Crowley offered the caveat that his presentation was based on information from the state, which in turn was based on information from the federal government. The Trump administration has set optimistic timeframes for vaccine deliveries that have, at times, received pushback from the scientific community.
Crowley said that the timelines he’s been given continue to shift.
Starting Tuesday, Summit County’s COVID-19 testing site will split into two locations and move indoors for the winter.
Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health have been jointly operating the drive-up testing site at Park City Hospital since early May. Intermountain’s testing site will remain at the hospital, while University of Utah Health’s site will move to its Redstone Health Center, 1743 W. Redstone Way.
An Intermountain spokesperson said that patients need to have at least one of the following symptoms to receive a test: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle aches and pains, decrease in sense of smell or taste or a sore throat.
She added that the site will continue to operate as long as there is public need for it, and that Intermountain offers three locations in the area to receive a flu shot.
People seeking a test should call either Intermountain Healthcare’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-844-442-5224, or the University of Utah Health COVID-19 hotline at 801-587-0712 or 1-844-745-9325, according to a press release.
Both testing locations are now offering saliva-based testing, the release states, advising patients not to eat or drink for 30 minutes prior to testing.
According to Crowley’s presentation, officials expect 2 million doses of the first batch of a vaccine Pfizer is developing to be distributed nationwide by the end of October and a total of 32 million doses delivered nationwide by the end of this year.
That means that Utah might expect to receive just under 20,000 doses by the end of October and about 310,000 by the end of the year, if the vaccine is allocated by population. Summit County’s share, according to its percentage of the state’s population, would be about 4,000 doses by the end of the year.
Bullough said that he thinks a more realistic timeframe would be to have a mass vaccination campaign sometime in the middle of next summer.
Crowley said that federal guidelines will dictate who will receive the vaccine first, indicating that the first tier will include high-risk groups like pregnant women as well as critical occupation groups like first responders and health care personnel. He said the last group to receive the vaccine would be healthy adults aged 19-64.
According to Crowley’s presentation, a different vaccine developed by Moderna is expected to be delayed until early 2021. Crowley and Bullough noted that Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures, between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius, which could present distribution challenges.
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