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Doctors Optimistic About COVID-19 Battle One Year After First Case

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — One year ago, Utah doctors were preparing to treat the first COVID-19 patient in the state. Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare said they are optimistic about the battle against the virus, but there’s still a long way to go.

Since the first patient arrived at Intermountain Healthcare, many Utahns have suffered in a variety of ways, and more than 1,900 have died. Doctors said immunity is growing by the day.

“It’s been a tough, challenging year, and yet, we find ourselves in a really great place where there’s a lot of optimism about the future,” said chief physician executive Dr. Mark Briesacher.

He said there’s reason to be optimistic, as the community remains cautious about not spreading the virus.

New cases of coronavirus, hospitalizations and deaths have declined nationwide, including those in Utah. All health districts across the state have reported decreases in case counts for all age groups. At the same time, 682,536 doses of the vaccine have been administered, and more than 70% of Utahns 70 years old and older have received their first dose.

Health officials have been watching for the possibility of a surge in cases from variants of the virus that have emerged nationally.

“We’ll be ready for a fourth surge if it occurs,” Briesacher said. “I think that we as a community have to be ready to respond rapidly with the things that we know make a difference.”

The significant improvement addressing the virus, he said, was mostly due to people masking up and social distancing, and the vaccines.

Based on the number of people who have had the virus over the past three months and those who have been vaccinated, protection in the population has been rising.

“With a combination of both (vaccine) and some assumptions, we are probably between 40% and 50% immune,” he said.

He said he believes that could grow to 50% to 60% immunity in April and May, and above 70% by June and July.

He said that’s based on assumptions that the vaccines remain effective, and previous infections remain protective against the rising variants, and that vaccine supply is delivered as expected.

“As our immunity grows, we will be getting to a point where we can and will relax those restrictions on public gatherings, and I think wearing a mask will become less important,” Briesacher said.

He said we’re not there yet.

“For now, let’s hang in there, and stick with it because it’s making a difference,” Briesacher said.

He acknowledged that getting vaccinated is a personal choice, but encouraged everyone, when it is their turn, to get the protection.
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