‘I have really significant concerns’: Doctors worry as school starts, delta variant surges

Aug 25, 2021, 7:11 PM | Updated: Aug 26, 2021, 6:09 am

SALT LAKE CITY — As the number of new COVID-19 cases in Utah, and across the country continues to surge, medical researchers at University of Utah Health warn that the situation will continue to get worse.

That’s what they saw in Wednesday’s numbers.

“The biggest concern, right now, is the large fraction of the population in Utah that remains completely unvaccinated,” said Dr. Stephen Goldstein, an evolutionary virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the U.’s School of Medicine.

The doctors said in a press briefing that if you catch COVID-19 now, you should assume that it is the delta variant, and that you are highly transmissible to the people around you. That presents real problems for those who are too young to get vaccinated.

“The vast majority of cases … 95% plus are due to the delta variant, which we know is more contagious,” said Dr. Emily Spivak, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at U of U Health.

Right now, more than 1,000 Utahns are testing positive for the virus every day, and Utah’s hospitals are essentially full.

“Compared to what we faced last summer, and even over the winter, we are dealing with a virus that can spread much more quickly through the unvaccinated population,” said Goldstein.

Nearly one in four new cases is in school-aged children. Those cases are rising now, whereas case rates were dropping among children last year.

“Case rates in that age group are much higher than they were at this time last year,” said Spivak. “I have really significant concerns.”

The school year is just starting. Children are gathering, unmasked in most schools.

“I think we are going to see nothing but an increase, unfortunately, in that age group, and maybe even steepening of the curve,” the researcher said.

Primary Children’s Hospital is full now. That’s partly due to a loss of beds due to flooding, and also because children are hospitalized with other viral infections, including RSV.

“They are really stretched as far as they can be right now,” Spivak said. “So, we need to do everything we can to prevent rising rates of infections in kids.”

While masks are not mandated for kids in most districts, the researchers recommend it for kids in school to protect themselves, and those they come in contact with.

“The risk for getting COVID, and specifically for being hospitalized, or dying from COVID is really in the unvaccinated population. So we really need to make a plea with everyone to get vaccinated,” said Spivak.

Especially everyone old enough to get vaccinated to help protect those who are too young for the shot. She said it could be midwinter until the vaccine is available for children ages 5 to 11.

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‘I have really significant concerns’: Doctors worry as school starts, delta variant surges