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As the state loosened COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, the state epidemiologist warned Utahns to expect a second wave of the disease this fall — and for it to linger as a threat for perhaps a year.
“We are anticipating a second surge in cases to coincide with the flu season, given that they’re both viruses and spread in the same way,” Dr. Angela Dunn said at a Friday briefing.
She cautioned that exactly what will happen is unknown, and many different prediction models exist. “None are perfect in predicting what’s going to happen, especially with a novel pandemic.”
Still, she said the state is working with health care providers and local health officials to prepare for a second wave.
“I think the challenging piece is going to be that element of social distancing. Will we need additional social distancing restrictions come fall when or if we see a second peak?” she said. “That’s going to be something that we as a state and society have to figure out: what’s a tolerable level of doing social distancing again in the fall if we do see another peak?”
Dunn was also asked how long she figures COVID-19 may continue as a threat in Utah — and suggested perhaps a year.
“We, of course, can’t predict anything,” she said. “But with a second wave potentially coming in the fall, we anticipate this pandemic being on the top of our minds and a priority especially until we get a vaccine. So we’re looking at least at another year.”
Utah reported no new deaths from COVID-19 on Friday — but the number of new cases rose by 156. That brings the total number of cases in the state to 4,828, up by 3.3% in a day.
Salt Lake County reported 88 new cases for a total of 2,526, an increase of 3.6%. Utah County added 36 cases for a total of 993. That is an increase of about 3.8%.
The state reported 13 new hospitalizations Friday, bringing the total to 403 since the pandemic began. The state also said that 4,057 more people had been tested for COVID-19, for a total now of 112,558.
As the state started allowing more businesses to reopen Friday, Dunn was asked what advice she would like residents to remember — especially those in areas that have seen fewer COVID-19 cases.
“The key to preventing additional spread throughout the state is going to be staying home if you do have symptoms or you’ve come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19,” she said.
“Even though we are opening pieces of our economy and society, those principles still hold, especially for our more vulnerable populations,” she said. “It’s important for them to maintain social distance even if they aren’t ill.”
For the first time, Dunn also said that Utah has sent a special “strike team” into a COVID-19 hot spot to help provide extra medical care and protection.
Dunn said a team was sent to what she described as a residential facility in Utah County that houses adults with intellectual disabilities. She said 15 of its 40 residents plus nine staff members had tested positive there for the disease.
“They don’t typically have nursing care there. It is more an intermediate care facility,” she said.
“Our strike team is providing that level of nursing care in addition to medical supplies that they don’t routinely stock there — including PPE [personal protective equipment] — to be able to care for the ill residents in that facility and then also prevent further spread.”
She said state officials are approaching the situation with “a sense of urgency” and is working with local health officials and the facility to minimize any spread.
The action comes a day after Dunn said the state was preparing strike teams to enter hot spots as needed around the state.
Teams will be set up differently to meet the needs of each specific situation, but Dunn said the current team include medical treatment staff, investigators to trace contacts infected people had with others, and people to test residents and staff who need it.