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Health, Science & Environment

COVID-19 Cases Are Spiking In Utah Due To The Highly Infectious Delta Variant And Hospitals Are Feeling The Pressure

Photo of the outside of the University of Utah Hospital building
Wikimedia Commons
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Emily Spivak, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Utah, said the university's hospital shut down a COVID unit earlier this year. Now, it’s unclear if they have the resources to open it again.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Utah are higher now than they were a year ago even though vaccines are widely available. The state is averaging about 150 more cases now than it was at the end of July 2020. The number of people hospitalized has also increased compared to a year ago.

The Delta variant is largely to blame, according to Utah Department of Health spokesperson Charla Haley. The latest data from UDOH shows the Delta variant is responsible for 86% of new cases.

“It has mutated in such a way that transmission is much easier and it seems to be a lot harder on your system when you do get it,” Haley said. “So this year looks completely different than last year.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday it’s recommending that all people in COVID hot spots wear masks in public settings where they don’t know the vaccination status of the people around them.

Haley said the state health department is still analyzing the recommendation. If they do issue anything in response, it will likely be a recommendation — not a mandate — about masks.

Increased cases due to the Delta variant mean more hospitalizations as well. Intensive care units around the state are on average more than 80% full.

Emily Spivak, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Utah, said the university's hospital shut down a COVID unit earlier this year. Now, it’s unclear if they have the resources to open it again.

“We have staffing shortages and really burned out health care providers,” she said. “It sort of feels like, OK, here's coming another round and do we really have the ability to do this again?”

The difference this time, she said, is that the hospital is seeing a lot more unvaccinated younger people.

“There's many more younger adults — some with severe infection[s] who are otherwise healthy,” she said. “So they probably didn't expect that they were going to get super sick from this. But with the lack of a vaccination and the community spread that we're having, we're seeing more and more people like that.”

Public health officials reported 843 new cases Wednesday. About 46% of all Utahns are fully vaccinated.

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