ALL NEWS

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.

All News

Levi Wright, 3, vanished into a creek and was rescued a mile downstream....

Lindsay Aerts, KSLTV.com

Toddler who nearly drowned in Beaver out of coma, first responders recall rescue as ‘organized chaos’

Three-year-old Levi Wright’s family friend Mindy Clark said Levi had woken up but was still on a ventilator and not talking.

1 hour ago

Almost half of working Americans say they feel good about their finances, for now. They're feeling ...

Alexandrea Bonilla

Working Americans are worried about their future finances

Almost half of working Americans say they feel good about their finances, for now. They're feeling unsure about the future.

2 hours ago

The Department of Public Safety helicopter was called to support Lone Peak avalanche rescue operati...

Esme Sanchez Estevez

Update: Lone Peak Canyon avalanche search and rescue information

With possible exposure to possible avalanches, rescuers worked hard on complicated mission. Here are more in detail information of the research and rescue.

3 hours ago

Kouri Richins attends a hearing on May 15 in Park City. Two new attorneys were appointed to represe...

Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com and Daniel Woodruff, KSL TV

Kouri Richins vows to prove innocence as new attorneys take over murder case

Kouri Richins sent voice recordings to multiple national media outlets maintaining she is innocent. This happened after her attorneys asked to be released from the case.

3 hours ago

A Unified police car crashed into a suspect's yellow car to delay him from fleeing the scene, after...

Emma Keddington

Police officer hospitalized after being hit by suspect, another officer and suspect also hospitalized

One police officer was injured after being hit by a vehicle in South Salt Lake, according to Unified Police Department.

3 hours ago

students walk on the U of U campus,...

Aimee Cobabe

University of Utah changes policy on tuition coverage for student employees

The University of Utah is changing its policy on covering tuition costs for employees. Not everyone is pleased with this change.

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

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