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COVID-19 Cases, Positivity Rate Drop As Holiday Surge Fills Hospitals

MURRAY, Utah – Doctors treating COVID-19 patients in Utah hospitals said they are not sure yet whether the holiday surge is easing, but they’re hopeful.

Case counts are dropping along with the rate of confirmed cases, but they remain high and hospitals are still swamped with patients from the holiday surge.

In an update on the status of COVID-19 in our communities, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, said the holiday surge may be waning, but hospitalizations and deaths still reflect the surge.

“We are by no means out of the woods with this,” said Stenehjem.

Surveying COVID-19 statistics from last month, Stenehjem said the post-Thanksgiving surge was short-lived. The bigger surge arrived after Christmas and New Year’s.

Stenehjem said that rise in cases started around Dec. 30, about a week after Christmas Eve, and peaked 10 days later.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ve had a relatively limited holiday surge and that we’re still going to come down,” he said. “The next couple of days will be really telling in terms of whether or not that is a sustained reduction.”

The state reported a slight decline in new cases and the rate of positive tests on Wednesday. It’s was at 26%, down from nearly 33% a week ago.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn has said Utah’s target positivity rate is below 3%. “That would indicate that we have pretty significant control over the pandemic in our community,” said Stenehjem.

While the number of people catching COVID-19 may be dropping, those who were getting sick a week ago may be heading to the hospital soon, he said. “Those cases are going to be hitting our hospitals essentially now,” Stenehjem said.

There is little relief in the ICUs which remain functionally full.

“We will still be seeing hospital volumes increase and remain high even if we’re going to have a decrease in our cases,” he said.

Hospitalizations, at well over 500, are nearing the high point from a month ago.

“But if we have continued sustained reduction in cases, our hospital numbers will also start to drop,” said Stenehjem.

The number of people being killed by complications with the virus, he said, will also drop, but only after the hospitalizations start trending down.

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