Delta variant still threatens Utahns as omicron is detected in the state

Dec 3, 2021, 4:15 PM | Updated: 7:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — As COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations remain high, health officials await the impact of the omicron variant. It has now been detected in Utah. A top epidemiologist in Utah said we can face it if we take precautions, but, it’s not the variant making most people sick today.

Everything the epidemiologists know about the omicron variant is based on early data. It is spreading in the U.S. The first case of the omicron variant has been discovered in Utah.

Dr. Andrew Pavia, director of epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital, said he feels the state needs to step up COVID-19 precautions to avoid infection by either variant.

“We expect in the next couple days, we’re going to find out that there’s a lot more omicron that is already here,” Pavia said.

While doctors and scientists don’t have all the answers on omicron, they will learn much more in the days and weeks ahead as more data emerges.

The Utah Department of Health Friday confirmed the state’s first case of COVID-19 caused by the new variant. The case was discovered through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive samples at the Utah Public Health Laboratory.

The individual who tested positive is an older adult who lives within the Southwest Utah Public Health District and recently returned home to Utah after traveling to South Africa. The person is fully vaccinated, received monoclonal antibody treatment, and is recovering at home after experiencing only mild symptoms.

The UDOH conducted a thorough case investigation, including identifying any close contacts of the case.

Pavia spoke to the media before the confirmation of that first case and anticipated it wouldn’t take long to arrive.

“It is going to spread, and that much I think is pretty clear. Will it outcompete delta? We don’t know.”

Making an educated guess, he thinks the vaccines should protect against hospitalization and death but may be less effective against breakthrough infections.

With holidays approaching, he said people fully vaccinated, and boosted, can venture out with reasonable precautions.

“You still should be wearing a mask in indoor settings where you’re going to be around unvaccinated people or crowds,” Pavia said. “When you’re at your relative’s house, and everyone is vaccinated and boosted, I personally would take the mask off as long as they’ve been reasonably careful, as well.”

He said those measures will work against the previous and new variants.

“What isn’t going to work against omicron is saying that we’re tired of the pandemic, and we’re so done with it that we can’t take precautions. That’s going to lead to a lot more illness.”

But, right now, the delta variant is still the real problem, and the most prevalent strain in Utah.

“We’re still getting hammered by delta, and we need to get it under control,” Pavia said.

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Delta variant still threatens Utahns as omicron is detected in the state