Utah COVID-19 Case Counts Dropping, Concerns Over Variants Grow

Feb 16, 2021, 6:15 PM | Updated: 9:32 pm

MURRAY, Utah – There’s cautious optimism about a continued decline in COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations in Utah. And while COVID-19 variants could still pose a serious threat, infectious disease doctors like what they see right now.

Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare said as of Tuesday, the critical numbers used to track the virus are back down to a level Utah hasn’t seen since October.

He said Utah is in a race against the variant strains of the virus.

“It means that the state is doing the right things and that the community is pulling together,” Webb said.

New COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the decline. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is below 1,000, which is where Utah’s numbers were four months ago before the largest surge.

“One thousand per day is still too high, but we’re very pleased to see that these are coming down,” said Webb.

He credited Utahns for social distancing and masking. In addition, he said more people are protected from the virus every day because thousands are getting vaccinated and there are 180,000 people who had the virus in the last few months who are now protected by those antibodies.

Webb estimated immunity in the community is now nearly 20% and making a difference.

“It’s a very important thing to see more and more of the population immune because coupling that with social distancing and mask-wearing — it’s driving our case counts down,” he said.

So far there is no indication of a Super Bowl surge from gatherings a week ago, Webb said, although those cases could still pop up over the next few days.

Webb is more concerned about COVID-19 variants now identified in 40 different states, including Utah.

“We are actually in a situation where we are in a race between vaccines and variants,” he said. Everything that can be done to speed that up will pay off.

“Try to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible so that these variants of concern don’t have an opportunity to take seed,” he said.

He was unsure of the prevalence of any COVID-19 variants in Utah because it’s not that easy to track them closely.

“At least at this point, we’re not seeing strong signals that we have a dominating strain here in the state,” Webb said. “But we’re continuing to watch for it carefully.”

If any variant becomes dominant, that could cause case counts to surge again. That’s why Webb said it’s important to get the vaccine when it’s our turn and to remain vigilant with our public health measures.

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