COVID-19 is rising again abroad. What does this mean for Utah?
COVID-19 is rising again abroad.  What does this mean for Utah?

COVID-19 is rising again abroad. What does this mean for Utah?

The pattern certainly looks well known.

COVID-19 cases are rising again in large parts of Europe and Asia, including China, where the largest increase since the virus first emerged from that country more than two years ago has resulted in several major factory cities being closed.

But although previous COVID-19 outbreaks abroad quickly spread to the United States and sent cases soaringthat does not mean history will necessarily repeat itself, said Han Kim, a professor of public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

“It’s harder and harder to predict what’s going to happen here, given what’s going on elsewhere,” Kim said. “Different populations have different levels of immunity, different countries have different policies for lockdowns, vaccinations and so on.”

One of these policies, known as “zero COVID”, is not doing well, especially in China and Hong Kong, against the incredibly transferable omicron variant of the virus that drove cases to record levels in Utah and the rest of the United States earlier this year.

The problem with trying to shut the virus out completely, Kim said, is that many people ended up never being exposed before omicron came along, so there was “essentially a huge population that is immune-naive” and vulnerable to infection, combined with less effective Chinese vaccines that some refuse.

As a result, the seven-day average of new cases in China has quintupled to more than 1,500, according to New York Times, causing lockdowns in several major factory cities affecting the mounting of iPhones, as well as closures in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, almost half of the population is thought to have been infected.

While omicron cases have already peaked in the US, so-called “stealth omicron,” an even easier to spread subvariant, has not yet hit hard here.

More ‘stealth omicron’ found in Utah

The subvariant, known as BA.2 for researchers, is thought to be responsible for at least 50% of all cases in Europe, but now accounts for just over 23% of cases in the United States and more than 13% in the region that includes Utah, according to the recently updated latest estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since first appearing in Utah in January, 75 cases have now been identified among the COVID-19 test specimens subjected to by sequencing of the Utah Department of Health, said Kelly Oakeson, the state Department of Health’s chief researcher for next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics.

The number of omicron subvariant cases in Utah is expected to be updated by the end of the week

As of Feb. 27, the subvariant accounted for 3.7% of the sample of positive tests sequenced by the state, Oakeson said, compared to a CDC estimate of 4.7% for the region in the same time period. But the number of sequenced BA.2 cases continues to grow steadily, from seven cases in early February to 21 cases three weeks ago.

European countries, where severe COVID-19 restrictions are often lifted and vaccination rates tend to be much higher than in the US, are likely to struggle with an increase in cases due to the spread of the subvariant, Kim said.

He said it is a better explanation at this point than other theories, such as the suggestion that more cases are detected in Europe due to declining immunity, or due to more frequent testing for the virus, which includes easier access to home tests that requires that the results be reported.

And Russia’s invasion of Ukrainewhich has already forced nearly 3 million people, mainly women and children, to flee their home country may well end up adding to Europe’s case counts, Kim said, but so far neighboring countries such as Poland have not yet seen the same increases.

“When BA.2 rises here, we will see one increase similar to Europe? ” asked Kim, adding that he is not so sure, although some experts “think that in April, May, we will see the same increase as BA.2 begins to take over, exceeding 50% of new cases. “

What about natural immunity to having viruses?

Unlike in Europe, where mitigating measures such as mask mandates and vaccine requirements were largely followed, the professor said that the milder but still extremely transferable original omicron variant may have infected several people in the United States, which provides some immunity to the subvariant.

Less than 62% of all Utahns are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and just over 27% have also received a booster shotconsidered the key to preventing hospitalizations and deaths from omicron, causing many breakthrough cases.

What is not clear is how much natural immunity there is on top of vaccinations, Kim said.

“We really do not have good data on that,” he said because of what he called “suboptimal.” testing. At the height of the omicron rise, Governor Spencer Cox encouraged most Utahns to join symptoms To skip overwhelmed state test sitesand just stay home. By end of the monthprivate healthcare systems will largely take over testing.

Andy Slavitt, a former Obama administration official who served as COVID-19 response adviser to the Biden administration, warned in a series of tweets Monday that “an estimated 45% of the United States has had omicron recently. It should be extremely protective. “

Slavitt said that those who have been vaccinated but have not had the omicron variant, “should be vulnerable to infection from BA2, but will largely not be hospitalized or worse. Those without prior infection would have the greatest risk of infection. They “who have not been infected but have not been vaccinated or boosted will be at greatest risk of hospitalization.”

He predicted that based on the increase in European cases, the US could “see a new increase in COVID cases during the spring”, but these factors mean that “we could see lots of cases but an even lower proportion” of people hospitalized in the hospital than during the last wave.

Experts continue to stress the need for vaccinations and booster shots to protect against the most serious cases that could lead to hospitalization or even death due to COVID-19, instead of relying on immunity from being infected if there should be another increase.

“By being vaccinated, we could have reached the same level of immunity without all the deaths,” Kim said, citing the “preventable” loss among those who chose not to get shots. “We reached that point, and people are saying, ‘Look, this approach was the way to go.’ And in fact, it was not because of how many people have died.”

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