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With Utah in the middle of a COVID bump, keep an eye out for rashes in children

Utah’s COVID-19 case counts, ICU visits and wastewater levels have all increased since mid-July.
Sean Higgins
Utah’s COVID-19 case counts, ICU visits and wastewater levels have all increased since mid-July.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Utah.

According to the most recent statewide data, key indicators like case counts and the virus’ presence in wastewater samples rose by more than 17% in the last week. In addition to elevated levels, some people have been reporting a different experience with the virus than they had in the past.

“Each of us got sicker during this episode,” said Keri Jones Fonnesbeck, whose family went through their second bout with COVID in early August. “Thankfully, [my kids] didn't get as sick as I did, but I was fairly sick for about five days and it was difficult to take care of myself and them at the same time.”

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen, the harder-hitting sickness people are experiencing now could be due to waning immunity, either from their last infection or vaccine dose.

“It's been a while since the last wave came through,” she said. “So more and more people have had a number of months where their immune system slightly forgets what they were exposed to before.”

There’s also a new symptom popping up in children: the presence of a rash or hives alongside more classic symptoms like a cough or sore throat.

“Both of my kids ended up kind of with tummy troubles, but my daughter had a rash on her arm and it wasn't until a day or two later that I kind of conflated the two,” said Fonnesbeck. “That was a new symptom that I wasn't expecting.”

As the virus continues to mutate, health care professionals continue to stress the importance of parents understanding the symptoms.

“Little kids, for a lot of viral illnesses, tend to get rashes,” Nolen said. “It's how their bodies respond. And it seems like that's happening more and more with COVID, too.”

Rashes, she noted, are a much less common symptom in adults. However, as any parent will tell you it’s never just one thing with children.

“We hear it anecdotally from a lot of families and a lot of pediatricians that they see these kids come in with pink eyes, that they think they have a pink eye infection and it turns out to be COVID.”

Nolen recommends that if a mysterious rash appears on your child and is combined with another symptom like a runny nose or low energy, it’s probably a good idea to grab a COVID test.

Along with changing symptoms, other key indicators are being watched to gauge the virus’ prevalence in Utah.

From Aug. 16-23, cases in Utah rose to a seven-day average of 113 per day. According to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, although reported case counts are the leading indicator of COVID-19 transmission, actual cases are probably higher as people with milder symptoms are less likely to seek care or report a positive test.

With case counts less dependable than in the past, professionals are now relying on other data points.

“We're looking a lot more at our wastewater data and our emergency room and hospital data,” said Nolen. “Those are all showing slow increases. We certainly have more virus in the water than what we had earlier this summer.”

“We hit a low in June,” added University of Utah Health Chief Medical Operations Officer Dr. Russell Vinik. “In one week in mid-June, we had 25 cases. And since June there's been a slow uptick that’s gotten a little bit bigger over the past couple of weeks. To the point now we had about 140 positive cases last week.”

A new COVID booster shot is expected to be available in September, and current advice is to wait until it becomes available before heading to a clinic.

We know that it will be a little bit different than the booster that people got last year, and that's appropriate,” said Nolen. “We are recommending people wait. I think the one exception would be if somebody doesn't have any protection, getting that first dose would be very valuable.”

For people with a higher risk of medical complications or a compromised immune system, it could be time to once again consider more rudimentary methods to limit exposure to the virus.

If you're really worried, the best thing to do for now is to wear a mask,” added Vinik. ”When you're in public or crowded places, wash your hands.”

Going forward, experts say annual COVID boosters are likely to become as commonplace as flu shots in the fall.

COVID is still a lethal disease, and particularly in people with compromised immune systems and elderly and the very young, just like influenza is a lethal disease,” said Vinik.

“We just have to be prepared every year and just like we do with flu, take the strains that we know and build a vaccine and then, more importantly, is to get people vaccinated.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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