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Doctors worry easing COVID-19 precautions could impact upcoming holidays

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors from University of Utah Health say they are worried Utahns may be easing up on taking precautions when it comes to COVID-19. While cases are declining in some states, such as Texas, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, that’s not what’s happening in some Western states, including Utah.

They say Utah cases and hospitalizations are as high as they’ve ever been.

“We are pleased the cases aren’t going up, but are being cautious because cases aren’t going down either,” said Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at University of Utah Health.

They addressed the media via Zoom at a briefing Wednesday. With the holiday season approaching, University of Utah doctors don’t want to see a spike in COVID-19 cases this time around. They say the state has been running 600 patients on a daily basis and COVID-positive patients are occupying many beds.

Right now, the ICUs are full and hospitals can’t take on more patients. Doctors said care for serious COVID-19 patients is suffering.

“We coordinate with almost every hospital system in the state and almost every day of the last week we’ve been getting pages from hospitals that have had difficulty placing patients,” Vinik said.

Nurses are leaving for higher pay with bonuses of $20,000, but many are stressed and overworked.

Doctors say getting vaccinated if you’re eligible and continuing to wear masks are key to staying out of the hospital.

“I’m in favor of continuing to wear masks. I have my children. I have young kids who are not eligible for vaccine. Even my older child who is vaccinated wears a mask,” said Dr. Elizabeth Middleton, University of Utah Health assistant professor of medicine and MICU associate medical director.

Doctors applaud efforts by the Salt Lake City Council to extend the mask requirement in schools for K-12 students through December.

A move one parent says makes sense with more people gathering indoors for the holidays.

“I just have my two youngest that can’t be vaccinated yet and so I’m not super worried about them because they are wearing masks at school. I just feel that’s another extra layer of protection,” said Alison Crockett, who has four students in the Salt Lake City School District.

Another issue doctors at the U. are dealing with is people who want to visit loved ones who are sick with COVID-19 – but they can’t because they’re not vaccinated.

Oftentimes, people lash out at staff — another example of some of the hardships frontline workers are enduring to keep people safe and healthy.

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