Utah, other Mountain West states are the nation’s newest COVID-19 hotspot – Community News
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Utah, other Mountain West states are the nation’s newest COVID-19 hotspot

Utah is one of five Mountain West states that make up the country’s largest swath of COVID-19 hotspots, stretching from Montana to New Mexico.

All five states — Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico — have an average of more than 50 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, according to data collected by the Mayo Clinic. Only five other rural states reach that level, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire and Alaska.

In Utah, every county except Daggett is bright red on the state’s coronavirus.utah.gov website, with a “very high rate” of more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days. Daggett, the state’s most sparsely populated county with fewer than 1,000 residents, had between one and five cases during that time.

The Utah Department of Health reported 1,558 new cases and 13 additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state’s moving seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests to 1,691 per day, the highest since late January, despite the recent rise in cases. caused by the highly contagious delta variant.

Why is the Mountain West being hit so hard?

“To some extent it’s hard to say why certain areas, I think, have their big peaks at certain times. Like why us now and the Midwest sooner, the South earlier in the summer,” said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

But there is some telling evidence, including the region’s relatively low vaccination coverage, he said. Just over 55% of all Utah residents are fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since the last initial dose. The other hot spots range from over 62% in New Mexico to less than 45% in Wyoming.

That’s combined with cold weather sending more people in, where the virus is spread much more easily and many people in the region are rejecting masks, Goldstein said, paving the way for the delta variant to last longer.

“We’re not coming down. We’ve stayed high and it’s up a little bit again,” he said, warning that it could be some time before the number of cases starts to fall again, especially with Thanksgiving, Christmas and other winter holiday celebrations approaching.

“I’m afraid we can stay at this pretty high level for a while,” Goldstein said. “I don’t know if I would predict that we’re going to see another big spike from where we are now. But even staying around this level for the next few months would be pretty devastating,”

A spokesman for Utah’s state health department is also unsure why the state’s caseload appears to be stuck.

“Unfortunately, here in Utah, we have not seen the declines in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that other parts of the country have experienced,” said spokesman Tom Hudachko. “While the reasons for this are not immediately apparent, we do know how to reduce the burden of COVID-19 in our communities.”

What it takes is to follow the same advice that public health experts have given during the pandemic.

“Getting vaccinated, getting tested for symptoms, and staying home if you’re sick are all simple steps that will go a long way in turning the current tide,” Hudachko said.

Last Friday, the Colorado Department of Health issued a statewide advisory warning that a projected increase in cases threatens to overwhelm hospitals. Colorado governor Jared Polis had already said that if the number of cases continues to rise, hospitals would have to request federal medical teams, discontinue elective surgeries and reject some patients.

Polis signed a few executive orders earlier this month preparing hospitals in Colorado to institute so-called crisis standards for care, guidelines for allocating limited resources, such as intensive care unit beds and ventilators.

Other states, including Idaho and Alaska, have set standards to ration health care during COVID-19 peaks. In Utah, it’s up to hospital officials to approach the state about invoking crisis standards for care that were updated a year ago to deal with the pandemic.

Earlier versions of Utah’s standards focused on the aftermath of an earthquake. For example, the new version specifies which COVID-19 patients should have access to restricted ventilators, including when to make that decision using a lottery.

Wyoming, which has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, saw Governor Mark Gordon activate nearly 100 members of the Wyoming National Guard in September to assist in hospitals across the state as cases approached the pandemic peak.

“In the 12 years I’ve been working at the hospital, it’s without a doubt the busiest, even compared to last fall,” said Dr. Andy Dunn, chief of primary care at Wyoming Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, told National Public Radio recently. week. “We’re seeing more COVID patients and we’re seeing sicker COVID patients.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who signed the bill banning private companies from mandating vaccinations and limiting the power of public health agencies, told the Helena Independent Record amid a spate of cases in October: “The role of government is to educate, communicate – it is not obligatory.”

New Mexico saw more than 19% increase in cases for the week ended Sunday, ranking seventh among the states where the coronavirus has spread the fastest per person, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins university.

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