COVID-19 variants “are already here,” U of U doctors say

Jan 28, 2021, 2:18 PM
Salt Lake County vaccine...
Local health officials say some people are going on the search for a COVID-19 vaccine, despite not meeting the state requirements. (PHOTO: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(PHOTO: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Doctors say COVID-19 variants are already in Utah because they are already seeing cases pop up in coronavirus testing. Experts from University of Utah Health held a news conference Thursday to allow Utahns to better understand the current situation.

COVID-19 variants likely already in Utah

Hearing about the British variant or South African variant might make people nervous. But Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the division of infectious diseases at U of U Health, said every infected person has some variant of the disease. And if that variant works to get you sick, it will try to jump to others in the population.

It’s because the spike protein on the virus surface changes or mutates — often during its travel from person to person — as it tries to survive.

“It isn’t just that they are coming in from Britain or South Africa, they are already here,” Swaminathan said. “And there are homegrown variants in California. The way you get variants is Darwinian evolution, it’s selection of the fittest.”

But there isn’t enough evidence yet to show whether the variants themselves are more deadly or less subject to immunity from the vaccine, he said.

“Even if the virus isn’t intrinsically more disease-causing, if you are getting more people infected, you are going to have more deaths just because of the numbers,” Swaminathan said.

Vaccines in the age of coronavirus variants

It’s likely the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are highly effective in producing immunity right now, according to recent studies. Experts predict the Johnson and Johnson version of the vaccine will also be available soon.

The question was asked if Utahns should double-mask now because of the prevalence of variants. Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at University Hospital, said people can if they want to — but he’d rather see people just wear a mask properly.

“Wear it over your nose, secure it tightly over your nose,” Vinik said. “Wear it all the way under your chin, not just on top of your chin.”

Drop in infection rate sparks hope in Utah doctors

Meanwhile the COVID-19 positivity rate is going down in Utah, reaching about 18% as of Thursday.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the trend come down pretty steep,” said Erin Clouse, strategic engagement manager at U of U Health. “It is still a high rate but the trend is going in the right direction.”

“There’s a lot of people in the grocery store who have COVID,” Swaminathan said. “We want the positivity rates to be at 5%, ideally 3%, to see that the community spread is at a manageable level.”

During the conference, the doctors said these numbers will keep improving as people get the vaccine. They have seen rates among their own staff drop significantly.

This comes as doctors, nurses and health care workers continue phase 1 of the vaccination distribution plan and many have already received their second dose.

That also prompted the group to reassure people that hospitals and doctors’ offices are safe.  Vinik said the concern now is the drop in people getting preventative screenings and treatments for cancer and heart disease, which lead COVID-19 in causes of death in Utah.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

A new study finds that reports of bad weather and air actually decrease ridership on the UTA....
Devin Oldroyd

Relief from inversion and poor air quality may be in Utah’s near future

The Beehive State is in the middle of some thick inversion and poor air quality, but relief may be on the way according to the National Weather Service.
20 hours ago
Salt Lake City Police say three sticks of dynamite were safely removed from a house this week by it...
Mark Jones

Three sticks of dynamite removed from Salt Lake City home

Three sticks of dynamite were removed from a Salt Lake City home on Wednesday, the SLCPD announced. The dynamite have been seized for investigation.
20 hours ago
A study by Intermountain Health that spanned 40 years and sought answers about the health of people...
Simone Seikaly

Intermountain’s 40-year study provides insight into weight-loss surgery

In some cases the results from the weight-loss surgery study were expected. But at least one result could be a cause for alarm and caution.
20 hours ago
Britt Johnson

Utah County men facing charges for defrauding the United States

The claims state that Zachary Bassett and Mason Warr used a fraudulent tax scheme to receive COVID-19-related relief funds.
20 hours ago
SLCC to host Black History Month events....
Waverly Golden

Salt Lake Community College to host Black History Month events

The Salt Lake City Community College is hosting numerous events in recognition of Black History Month including a film viewing and panel.
20 hours ago
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsor of HB297 Victim Services Amendments, poses for a portrait at...
Katie McKellar, Deseret News

A Utah lawmaker and her sister at odds: Should rape victims need to contact police before getting an abortion?

Rep. Kera Birkeland says her bill focuses on rape victim services and holding rapists accountable. But her sister, a rape survivor, says it strips away choices.
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
COVID-19 variants “are already here,” U of U doctors say