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Doctor: Utah’s COVID-19 infection rate is a concern, hospitalizations stabilize

Infectious disease physician, Dr. Stenehjem on a Facebook Live

SALT LAKE CITY–An infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare says people should be worried about Utah’s COVID-19 infection rate even though death and hospitalization rates continue to decline. 

During a Facebook Live on Thursday, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem addressed the potential harms of not following health guidelines to combat the coronavirus. 

“We’re not doing great,” Dr. Stenehjem said in response to the most current COVID-19 data. “We are definitively trending up.  We are now reaching total daily case counts that are rivaling our peak we had in July.” 

 

Utah’s infection rate spike  

Dr. Stenehjem says the uptick in cases is primarily among people between the ages of 14-24. A lot of those cases are coming from Utah County, says Stenehjem, which has twice the rate of infection compared to Salt Lake County. 

While the majority of the cases in Utah County are isolated within a younger population, the 18% positive case rate is a cause for concern, according to Stenehjem. 

 “It [infection rate] shows increase community transmissions is most likely,” said Stenehjem, because Utah hasn’t seen a significant decrease in COVID-19 testing.  

It’s no secret teens and young adults are less likely to fall critically ill from the virus. However, older populations are. 

The biggest concern to Stenehjem is the transmission of COVID-19 from the younger demographic to parents and grandparents. 

“We’re starting to get the sense that this [community transmission] is already happening with the increase in cases,” said Stenehjem.

Additionally, Stenehjem noted another reason why COVID-19 is spreading in Utah County. “Less than 50% of the people I encountered weren’t wearing masks,” Stenehjem said. And because of that, Stenehjem says “it’s [coronavirus] going to spread more and more throughout the community.” 

COVID-19 hospitalizations stabilize 

Despite the jump in cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a downward trend.

“Hospitalizations are relatively stable,” said Stenehjem. “We are essentially flat, now.” But Stenehjem worries all of that could change if Utah’s infection rate continues to climb.  

Stenehjem attributes schools reopening for the coronavirus increase. He specifically points to college campuses and high schools in Utah. Riverton High School closed Thursday due to more than a dozen coronavirus cases. Corner Canyon High School in Draper moved to a split schedule to reduce the spread after similar numbers.

No college in Utah has closed because of the virus, but Stenehjem notes the problem on campus won’t get better if it’s not addressed. 

“We really have to think hard about what we are going to do on these college campuses to downward the trend,” explained Stenehjem. 

If the problem isn’t addressed, Stenehjem predicts a spike in hospital admittance. “The hospitalizations increase will probably come 2-3 weeks from now,” said Stenehjem. “We will probably start to see an uptick of infection among older groups.” 

Sick kids and the flu 

His biggest piece of advice to parents and young adults is staying home when someone shows flu or coronavirus symptoms. 

“Kids with a cough or sniffle cannot go to school and need to get tested,” Stenehjem emphasized. He says respiratory infections are only going to increase as we head into the fall and winter seasons. 

Even if you think you have the flu, you have to get tested for COVID-19, Stenehjem advised. According to Stenehjem, the illnesses both carry similar symptoms and are impossible to distinguish without a test. 

“We cannot have our hospitals full of people with severe influenza,” said Stenehjem. He says hospitals need all the resources and space for COVID-19 patients.