Health Officials Optimistic Utah Can Prevent Another Holiday Surge

Dec 23, 2020, 6:50 PM | Updated: 9:13 pm

MURRAY, Utah – Doctors said the people of Utah avoided a serious surge in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving, and they hope Utahns will take the same precautions in the days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s.

As the long Christmas weekend approached, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare, gave Utahns reason to be optimistic just before Christmas but only if people continue to be vigilant about avoiding the virus.

“We’re in a nice kind of downward trend of our case counts,” said Stenehjem, who cited the data.

Testing, however, has not returned to the levels before Thanksgiving, and the COVID-19 positivity rate Wednesday was 27%.

“That’s still really, really high,” Stenehjem said. “We really want that to be less than 5%.”

That positivity rate indicated to him that testing is missing a lot of active cases. The high number of people in the ICU and dying people also concerned him, but those numbers will drop if case counts continue to decline.

“Fingers crossed that Utah comes together as a community like we did for Thanksgiving,” he said. “We didn’t see that big surge we were expecting because Utahns took this seriously. I’m hoping we’ll see the same thing out of Christmas.”

Also encouraging was the ongoing distribution of vaccines. So far, 6,000 Intermountain caregivers have been vaccinated — with nearly twice that number statewide — lightening the mood in the hospital.

“It’s a feeling of safety for our caregivers. So, that has helped us tremendously,” Stenehjem said.

At the same time, he said, “It is a tough time to be in the hospital. It’s a really hard time to both work in the hospital and be a patient in the hospital over the holidays.” Especially when they are not allowed to have visitors.

He’s encouraging those families to connect with their loved ones in the hospital through FaceTime and to engage as much as possible.

“We know this is a really hard time on people, not just the patients in the hospital, but also their family members,” Stenehjem said.

It’s also hard for caregivers to be away from their families, caring for high-risk patients.

He said the greatest gift we can give the caregivers is to set a good example by masking up and taking precautions to protect the people around us.

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Health Officials Optimistic Utah Can Prevent Another Holiday Surge