Utah hospitals ‘bursting at the seams’ with COVID-19 patients ahead of holiday gatherings, expert says

If you’re not feeling well, “sit this one out,” an infectious diseases physician said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Diane Gilles takes a handful of syringes filled with the Moderna vaccine to be given to people on Thursday, March 18, 2021.

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If you’ve got the sniffles, a Utah medical expert advises to skip Thanksgiving gatherings with your family — and go get tested for COVID-19.

“One of the most important things that folks can do to protect themselves and their loved ones during the holiday season is to recognize that there is a significant overlap in the symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms of the many other respiratory viruses that are now circulating.” Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, said.

For that reason, it’s important to test early and test frequently for the coronavirus, Webb said. If you’re not feeling well on Thanksgiving, “sit this one out.”

“It’s more important than having transmission within the family, especially to those who are at higher risk for severe disease.”

According to Webb, about 80% of Utahns who are dying from COVID-19 “have chosen not to be vaccinated.” The other 20% are fully vaccinated and have breakthrough infections.

Webb noted that patients with breakthrough infections “have, on average, at least four or more different chronic medical conditions like asthma or emphysema, diabetes, obesity, heart disease. And a significant number of them have immune systems that are compromised.”

About a fifth of those who die from breakthrough infections — about 4% of total deaths — “are immunocompromised patients who can’t respond well to the vaccine.”

“We really need people to understand their risk and their risk factors,” Webb said. “If you have chronic medical conditions or have a body mass index of over 30 and are an adult of working age or older, you are at higher risk of having severe COVID hospitalization, ventilation or death. And that’s the reality.”

Webb on Wednesday said that Utah hospitals are currently “bursting at the seams” with COVID-19 patients. The Utah Department of Health reported that 91.3% of all ICU beds in Utah and 94.5% of ICU beds in larger medical centers in the state are occupied. (Hospitals consider any figure over 85% to be functionally full). Of all ICU patients, 43.6% are being treated for COVID-19.

Webb advised Utahns who do gather for Thanksgiving to do so in a large, well-ventilated area, to limit the size of the group, and to social distance and wear masks when possible.

Thirteen more Utahns have died of COVID-19 in the past day. The state’s coronavirus death toll has now reached 3,470 since the pandemic began, according to the Health Department.

The Health Department also reported 1,804 new coronavirus cases in the past day. The rolling seven-day average of new positive cases stands at 1,480.

The number of children getting vaccinated continues to climb — 61,485 children ages 5-11 have gotten a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since they became eligible; that’s about 16.9% of kids that age in Utah, according to the Health Department.

Vaccine doses administered in the past day/total doses administered • 20.660 / 4,082,308.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,795,291 — 54.9% of Utah’s total population. That’s an increase of 2,092 in the past day.

Cases reported in past day • 1,804.

Cases among school-age children • Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 394 of the new cases announced Wednesday — 21.8% of the total. There were 229 cases reported in children aged 5-10; 83 cases in children 11-13; and 82 cases in children 14-18.

Tests reported in past day • 12,411 people were tested for the first time. A total of 25,134 people were tested.

Deaths reported in past day • 13.

Salt Lake County reported three deaths — two men and a woman 65-84. There were also three deaths in Utah County — a man 25-44, and two men 65-84.

Three counties each reported two deaths — a woman 65-84, and a man 85-plus in Davis County; a man 45-64, and a man 65-84 in Washington County; and two women 65-84 in Weber County.

A Cache County man 85 or older also died.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 530. That is six fewer than reported on Tuesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 206 are in intensive care, eleven fewer than reported on Tuesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 14.5% in the past day. That is lower than the seven-day average of 16.5%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Wednesday’s rate was 7.2%, lower than the seven-day average of 10.6%.

[Read more: Utah is changing how it measures the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Here’s what that means.]

Risk ratios • In the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns were 15.6 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 9.8 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 4.1 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 589,714 cases; 3,470 deaths; 25,643 hospitalizations; 3,927,926 people tested.

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