Utah hits next wave of elevated COVID cases, state epidemiologist warns

Utah hits next wave of elevated COVID cases, state epidemiologist warns

Utah state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen speaks at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on February 18. Nolen said Friday the next wave of elevated COVID-19 cases has already begun in Utah. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 39% of Utahns who died from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were either fully or fully vaccinated and boosted, according to statistics from the Utah Department of Health.

Utah state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen said the Omicron variant results in a higher risk of infection and hospitalization for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals compared to other variants. But being vaccinated still reduced the risks.

“I think it’s still very important to point out that the vaccine worked well,” Nolen said Friday.

She said that during the Omicron period, people who were not vaccinated were 3.6 times more likely to die than vaccinated people and 15 times more likely to die than people who had a booster shot.

“Certainly it’s not what we would want, we would want it to be 1,000 times … we want the vaccine to be as strong as possible. And it’s not perfect, there’s no question about that, but it’s still pretty good and even during Omicron we’ve seen that (the vaccine) is pretty protective here in Utah,” Nolen said.

Those comments were in response to a Washington Post report Tuesday that said statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 42% of people who died from COVID-19 in January and February this year , were vaccinated compared to 23%. of people who died during the delta variant peak.

“We need to understand that this is not just a pandemic of the unvaccinated. It’s not just people who choose not to get their vaccines who are dying from this virus,” Washington Post reporter Fenit Nirappil said on the episode of Post Reports.

Statistics from the Utah Department of Health show that since December 21, 2021 — which is defined as the “omicron period” — the state has had 516 deaths of people who were unvaccinated, 211 deaths of people who were vaccinated but not boosted , and 117 from people who have been vaccinated and boosted. This means that a quarter of those who died were vaccinated but not boosted, and almost 14% of those who died were both boosted and vaccinated.

The state currently reports that 62.1% of Utahns are fully vaccinated or vaccinated and boosted, and 28.5% of Utahns have received a booster shot. This shows that the vaccine is helping prevent deaths, as the percentage of the population in those categories is higher than the percentage of deaths from COVID-19 in each of the same categories.

Nolen said they are still learning and trying to understand how long a vaccine provides protection. She said they are currently recommending a second booster shot for those over 50 or those with compromised immune systems. According to Nolen, the data show that age is a clear factor in the number and severity of breakthrough infections.

“There are some people who, despite doing the right things, can get a bad infection,” Nolan said. “There are still some risks.”

She said there are many factors that can affect a vaccine’s effectiveness, including how the virus mutates and how different it is from the vaccine. She said they are watching to try to understand when another shot might be a good idea.

The next wave?

Nolen said Utah is starting to see more COVID-19 infections after seeing very few infections over the past six weeks. The state is starting to see more people going to emergency rooms and hospitalized with COVID-19. Nolen said cases in Utah are likely to follow a surge seen in some northeastern states, which are currently reporting hospitals are full. She said we’re about four or five weeks behind them.

“We’ve watched the rest of the country slowly get hit by the wave, I think we’re getting that now. We’re just getting started,” Nolen said.

She said some factors that could be causing the spike include that the Omicron variant has changed somewhat and it’s a slightly different virus and people are more out and about in the community, leading to higher exposure. Nolen said the risk isn’t very high, especially for people who have been vaccinated and boosted, and she wants people to spend time with friends and family. However, she said people should not take “unnecessary risks” such as B. walking into large crowds without protection like a mask.

She said that in this wave there is “partial protection” for people who have had the Omicron variant of the virus because their bodies have some knowledge of how to react, but that could change with future variants. Nolen said people should protect themselves despite previous infections and vaccination status.

“We have to accept that this virus will be with us for quite a while. … Hopefully the vaccines continue to have good protection so that in our lives it can be more of a nuisance and a difficulty than changing a whole life thing,” Nolen said.

She said it will likely come in waves and people will have to make decisions based on what’s happening in the community. Health officials are prepared for an increase and are aiming to target testing at those with limited resources, as many people now have the ability to purchase COVID-19 tests.

“For the general population, we really want to encourage them to use resources that they can use throughout the community,” Nolen said.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. It covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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