Covid-19: Record High Cases, Variant Likely Already Here

The contagious new strain of Covid-19 sweeping across Europe has been detected in New York, California, Colorado, Florida and Georgia – and is probably already in Utah too, Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said Tuesday.

That piece of the evolving Covid puzzle is one of several worrying data points health officials are grappling with as they manage fallout from a holiday season that saw too much gathering and not enough distancing. 

Wednesday’s report of 66 new cases of Covid-19 in Summit County and four new hospitalizations in the past 24 hours broke the previous record high of 62 cases, which was reported Dec. 30.

Bullough said that while the spikes signal bad news in terms of public compliance, they do not come as a surprise.

“It’s exactly what was predicted,” he said. “What we’ve been seeing is the surge following the holidays. We’re seeing most of the cases coming from informal gatherings among adults.”

In terms of where precisely in the county cases are spreading or concentrated, Bullough said cases are pretty evenly distributed throughout the county and occurring across all business sectors, with no hot spots to point to, and “no areas low enough to avoid concern.”

“What makes it hard to manage and mitigate is the fact that we don’t really have single drivers. It would be a lot more simple if we had outbreaks coming from single industries.”

He said that general community spread makes tracing “difficult if not impossible.”

To the surprise of Bullough and many others, one place Covid-19 is not spreading at a troubling rate is within Summit County’s three school districts. He said schools have done a remarkable job, not just with safety protocols but even more importantly with contract tracing and controlling potential outbreaks.

“I’m super impressed. The schools are one of the safest places for kids to be,” he said.

Anticipating the post-holiday spike, health officials statewide have been in daily contact with hospitals to monitor bed availability, which Bullough said would be the key indicator of whether addition restrictions would be required.

Hospitals are nearly full but so far have been able to meet demand without moving to crisis care standards. Working in Utah’s favor is a record number of people receiving flu vaccine combined with drastically lower rates of visitors coming from the southern hemisphere, which begins its flu season earlier and historically has imported the virus to the U.S through tourism.

Higher restrictions will occur only if hospitals cannot maintain the capacity to care for patients.

“We’re hoping we don’t get there. We’re not there yet,” he said.

Avoiding a scenario involving increased restrictions will come from people changing their behavior. But, he said, the ship has sailed for restrictions on a county-by-county basis. With work, school and leisure travel between counties a regular way of life for so many citizens, any future restrictions would occur on a regional basis – one county locking down while its neighbor did not would be pointless.

“We’re not in that place anymore. It’s so much more widespread,” he said.

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