HEALTH

Doctors say Utah ‘not in a good place’ preparing for COVID-19 in the winter months

Nov 12, 2021, 9:48 PM
covid-19 tests utahn died...
File Photo: A long line line of cars waiting for COVID-19 testing in the parking lot across the street from the UDOH main offices. Photo credit: Paul Nelson, August 30, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY – There are some bleak predictions from health care workers in Utah. Doctors say we have “no room for error” when it comes to preparing for the winter months and possible surges of COVID-19 cases. 

Here’s one problem, according to Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Disease Doctor Brandon Webb, hospitals are already seeing a very early start to the pediatric respiratory viral season. Primary Children’s Hospital’s inpatient rate is already at “peak winter volumes,” Webb said.

“We usually don’t see these types of volumes until much later in the winter, when RSV hits its peak,” Webb said.

With health care resources already being strained, Webb says Utah has “no room for error” in prepping for the rise in COVID-19 cases that they expect to see.

“We’re not in a good place going into the winter months, right now.  Our case transmission is still high,” Webb said.

Reasons to be pessimistic

Officials say the ICUs at Intermountain facilities are at or beyond capacity with COVID and non-COVID cases.  They’ve opened more beds in some hospitals, but they’re having trouble finding enough nurses to cover those expanded units.

Here’s another problem, scientists are tracking a shift in surging cases coming from eastern state to western states, similar to what happened in the spring of 2020, Webb said.  In the past few weeks, Idaho saw a severe spike in COVID-19 cases, and Webb said things are getting worse in neighboring Colorado.

“Our neighbors, just to the east of us in Colorado, are seeing a significant upswing.  In fact, they are, right now, having to enact measures to prevent overwhelming the health care system,” he said.

The number of new infections appears to have “steadied” in Utah, however, that isn’t necessarily good news, Webb said.

Webb said, “We’re grateful that we haven’t surged to the degree that we have seen in some of the other states.  At the same time, our ‘steady’ state right now, over the last few weeks, is still too high to be comfortable.”

Reasons to be optimistic 

Webb said it’s too soon to tell if making vaccines available for kids between the ages of five and 11 will have a major impact on the spread of the virus, but researchers believe that it will.  He cited projections from the CDC that show vaccinations among this age group will slow the spread to adults, possibly eliminating 60 thousand hospital admissions, nationwide.

Webb believes the best way to protect public health is to create a “immunization buffer” which could include vaccine-acquired immunization and infection-acquired immunization.  He says both forms of immunity are good and there doesn’t need to be two separate camps arguing about which is better.  He also says immunity wanes with both methods, but vaccines are better at preventing hospitalizations.  Webb cited research showing people who were infected with COVID-19 then received at least one dose of the vaccine have stronger immunity from the disease.

Currently, infection-acquired immunity is not recognized as part of the public health strategy in the U.S., but that could change.   Countries like Switzerland have recognized IAI as a temporary equivalent to vaccination, Webb said.

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