Utah is beginning to see herd immunity, says Intermountain doctor

The state reports fewer than 600 new cases and one more death.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nurses test for COVID-19 at the Test Utah site in Herriman, on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021.

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Utah is “starting, little by little, to see some population immunity” — also known as herd immunity, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare said Tuesday.

Dr. Brandon Webb pointed to the seven-day rolling average of about 1,000 new cases per day, which is about where the state was in October.

“A thousand per day is still too high,” Webb said. “But we’re very pleased to see that these are coming down” as a result of people social distancing, wearing masks, getting vaccinated — and because about 180,000 Utahns have recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months.

“We’re probably somewhere just under 20% [immunity] at this point. … It’s not enough, but it is helping,” Webb said. “And it’s a very important thing to see more and more of the population immune, because coupling that with social distancing [and] masking, it’s driving our case counts down.”

For the second day in a row, the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported in Utah is well below 1,000. After reporting 462 cases on Monday, the Department of Health reported 591 positive tests on Tuesday.

Webb said the state is in a “race between vaccines and variants,” adding: “We can’t go fast enough. That’s the bottom line here.”

He said it’s “hard to know” if Utah is being hit by coronavirus variants, because so little testing is being done for them. Health experts are monitoring reinfection rates and vaccine failures, which provide indirect evidence of variants, and “at least at this point, we’re not seeing strong signals that we have a dominating strain here in the state. But we’re continuing to watch really carefully.”

Webb also cautioned people who have gotten their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine to continue to take precautions — to social distance and wear masks.

“We are seeing too many cases of acute COVID in people who received their first dose. … You have very little immunity for the first two weeks after receiving the first dose,” he said. The data, he added, shows that “you’re not fully immune until you’ve had the full two dose series for those MRNA vaccines. ... With the availability of these vaccines, we still need people to be vigilant even after that first dose and through the second dose series.”

Vaccinations reported in past day/total vaccinations • 7,952 / 532,985.

Number of Utahns who have received two doses • 164,775.

Cases reported in past day • 591.

Deaths reported in past day • One — a man age 85 or older in Salt Lake County.

Hospitalizations reported in past day • 272. That’s down two from Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 106 are in intensive care units — two more than on Monday.

Tests reported in past day • 4,015 people were tested for the first time. A total of 9,985 people were tested.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 14.7%. That’s higher than the seven-day average of 13.7%.

Its new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Today’s rate is now at 5.9%, slightly lower than the seven-day average of 6.4%.

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

Totals to date • 362,347 cases; 1,797 deaths; 14,239 hospitalizations; 2,129,525 people tested.