COVID-19 Indicators Drop But New Variants Are Concerning

Jan 28, 2021, 6:30 PM | Updated: 8:14 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Doctors at University of Utah Health have seen a significant drop in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, but they warned that community transmission remains high and variants are raising new concerns.

As ominous as it sounds, some people may want to consider double masking.

Key indicators of COVID-19 in Utah are improving. Even the positivity rate, which peaked at 33% in early January, is now below 20%.

“It’s still a very high rate, but the trend is definitely going in the right direction,” said Erin Clouse, strategic engagement manager at U of U Health. “We’ve seen that trend come down pretty steep. It’s still pretty high, though — it’s 20% now. So one out of five people seeking a COVID test is positive.”

A positivity rate under 3% would indicate the virus is under control.

“A positivity rate of 20% is outrageously high,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at U of U Health. “What that means is that there are a lot of people out there in the grocery store who have COVID.”

For now, though, the hospital overload is easing.

“The good news is, we’ve seen a significant reduction in new admissions,” said Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at University Hospital. “We had been averaging as high as 12 new COVID patients per day towards the end of November. That’s down to about seven new COVID admissions per day.”

Earlier this week, the hospital was able to close half of the ICU surge areas they had been using to handle that overwhelming volume of patients.

“We’re not having to staff the entire surge ICU which is a great relief to our providers who have been working so much extra time to take care of these patients,” said Vinik.

They are still busy at 99% of ICU capacity in their hospital. Plus, the arrival of new COVID-19 variants threatens the positive trend.

“The British B1.1.7 variant is here, has been detected here. How prevalent it is, we don’t know,” said Swaminathan.

Once the variants start spreading, “Some people predict they will become the predominant strain, as it has done in the U.K. very rapidly,” he said.

Should we be double masking?

“The more material, the more filters the more virus is going to get trapped in those filters,” said Vinik. “So, that’s the upside for double-masking.”

It also creates a tighter fit.

”Masking works, and more than anything, our message to the public is wear a mask, and wear a mask properly,” said Vinik.

The doctor said double masking is not a bad idea for those who want to do everything possible to protect themselves or those at higher risk.

“Double masking might be helpful. But certainly more than anything, just wear a mask and wear it properly,” said Vinik.

The doctors agreed that dropping case counts and hospitalizations are a sign that our positive actions are making a difference.

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COVID-19 Indicators Drop But New Variants Are Concerning