CORONAVIRUS

BA.5 variant driving new surge of Utah COVID-19 cases

Jul 21, 2022, 4:33 PM | Updated: Jul 22, 2022, 10:46 am

MURRAY, Utah — President Joe Biden’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis Thursday was a sober reminder that Utah is not done fending off COVID-19 in many communities.

In fact, Utah hit the ominous milestone of 1 million official cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began more than two years ago.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Utah and nationwide have surged in recent weeks. This rise has been fueled by the BA.5 omicron variant, which appears to be one of the most transmissible strains of coronavirus yet. Fortunately, it is not as deadly.

“We are definitely seeing very significant transmission across the state of Utah,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

Cases of COVID-19 in Utah and across the country have been rising for a couple of months. Last week Utah reported nearly 8,000 new cases.

“We all know people in our circles, in our social circles, in our families that have tested positive for Covid recently,” said Stenehjem. “So, we certainly know the community transmission is quite extensive at this point.”

Stenehjem points out cases are undercounted because more people are testing at home if they’re getting tested at all. Seven counties in Utah have high COVID-19 community transmission levels according to the CDC. Those counties are Salt Lake, San Juan, Summit, Tooele, Wasatch, Wayne and Piute.

Hospitalizations are up sharply. But, patients needing intensive care and COVID-19 deaths related to the disease have not spiked.

Vaccination and prior illness provide less protection against this variant, Stenehjem said, but they still ease the severity.

“At this point, we have to really look and say what is my risk of getting COVID? What is the risk of me transmitting COVID to high-risk individuals?” And what is that impact going to be on my life?” Stenehjem said.

High-risk individuals still should take precautions regardless of their vaccination status. Stenehjem recommended masks for those individuals when they are in crowded indoor areas.

“Masks may not be right for everybody,” he said. “But, we encourage people, especially those at high risk to really focus on what they can do to reduce the risk of infection.”

Know your risk and take necessary precautions the doctor said.

Stenehjem is concerned that Utah’s booster vaccination rate is still only 50%. He’s urging boosters for everyone eligible, and also COVID vaccination for kids before they head back to school.

You can get information on how to schedule a vaccine here.

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