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Utah Balks National Trend In Rise Of COVID-19 Cases

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — After a steady 10-week decline in COVID-19 cases across the country, data from the CDC showed signs of another surge, but not in Utah.

According to an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare, Utah was in a pretty good place with its COVID data. Despite encouraging trends, he said we need to hang in with mask wearing a little bit longer.

“We are headed in a great direction. Now is not the time to pull back,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem. “We would love to see these numbers continue to go down and continue to see our vaccine delivery go up. At a point, we’re going to be able to say, OK, we’re in a position where we can stop wearing masks.”

He said we are witnessing the race between the vaccine and variant COVID strains.

“We’re getting lots of people vaccinated, and I think that’s part of the reason why we haven’t seen that uptick in cases,” said Stenehjem. “So right now, we’re in a good spot.”

Utah’s epidemic curve showed an uptick in the last week of March, but that number has declined.

Among Utah’s neighboring states, only Colorado has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases, but nothing like the surge in Michigan and places like Florida and New York.

Dr. Stenehjem pointed out this virus transmits regionally first before spreading further.

“When we first saw it, we saw an increase in cases in New York City, in Louisiana, in Seattle, while we didn’t have much going on at all,” he said.

Later, health experts saw shifts in case counts and surges in Utah and neighboring states.

“It’s all regionally-based,” Stenehjem said.

He said other regions are a reminder that COVID-19 isn’t gone.

“It is just another reason to fully emphasize: get a vaccine,” he said.

The statewide mask mandate ends Saturday, but Stenehjem said to be cautious.

“There’s nothing magical about Saturday,” he said. “The virus isn’t going to act any different on Saturday compared to Friday.”

He still recommended wearing a mask when leaving home as many vulnerable people in the state have yet to receive their vaccines. 

“Absolutely. There’s going to be a point where we’ll say, ‘Yes, take those masks off and get together,’ but there’s no reason to do it too soon because the last thing we want to do is re-institute new measures to control the pandemic in Utah.”

He said the Beehive State was very close, but Utahns need to hang in there a little bit longer to reach herd immunity.

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