What happens if COVID-19 rises again in Utah?
What happens if COVID-19 rises again in Utah?

What happens if COVID-19 rises again in Utah?

When it comes to dealing with any future COVID-19 increases in Utah, Governor Spencer Cox’s new “steady state” plan is likely to resemble the old plan where the Utah Department of Health provides testing, treatment and monitoring but does not require masks or other measures.

“We have really focused on, as we have talked about ‘steady state’, and increased on the tools we have used to respond in connection with test, monitoring, support for the hospitals, case investigation. We are working on a plan that will allow us to re-implement these tools, ”said the department’s CEO, Nate Checketts.

Additional tools the state could use in another outbreak have been restricted by the Utah Legislature, which ended -one state-wide mask mandate almost a year ago and made it harder for both state and local authorities to impose public health restrictions.

State lawmakers can now overturn declarations on public health emergencies and mandates, a power they exercised in January by voting for throw out mask mandates in both Salt Lake and Summit counties at height of the latest record increase driven by the incredibly transferable omicron variant.

Checketts declined to comment on whether the law should be changed to give the executive more authority to respond quickly to a COVID-19 crisis, saying it already “allows the department to act, and then it’s up to to the Legislative Assembly to decide what actions they wish to take. “

Details of the plan, which is expected to be in place by March 31, are still being worked out, he said, including what should happen for the state to reverse the efforts already underway to largely shift testing and treatment for the virus to private health systems and end daily reports on its impact.

There will likely not be a single trigger, but some sort of combination of factors, Checketts said, which would include an increased presence of the virus in sewage samples, increases in acute care and emergency room visits for COVID-19 symptoms and new variants, such as so-called “stealth” omicron.

Meanwhile, the state is hanging on to contracts with private test firms if necessary, he said.

Checketts said he hopes the Utahns have enough immunity against the virus from vaccinations as well as infections to “attenuate or soften any future waves or waves”, but suggested the increase that quickly followed Utah’s first omicron case last December may not be the last.

“I do not rule it out. That’s part of the reason we want to have our preparations in place, “he said, adding that the intention of last Friday’s announcement from the governor” was to signal the direction we were heading and to let the public know that we made these plans. ”

Timer the transition from a pandemic to endemic reaction

But Han Kim, a professor of public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, questioned the impact of Cox convening a news conference to say Utah is moving away from a pandemic response, given how much is not yet there. clarified.

“There were absolutely zero details,” Kim said after listening to the message. “I’m not sure what was achieved, except maybe just a PR move to let people know.”

Kim said more detailed plans have been put in place in other states like California which allows governors to reintroduce mask mandates and other mitigation measures if cases rise again. But in Utah, he said lawmakers basically took over much of the state’s response to COVID-19 to push back toward mandates.

Another question Kim raised is whether the Utah governor is moving too fast.

Utah’s COVID-19 case drops sharply from the number about three times the previous record, in part because Cox deterred most Utahns from being tested for the virus in mid-January because government websites could not keep up with demand. Now the lines are gone and many of these test sites are being shut down.

University of Utah Health officials pointed out Tuesday that COVID-19 cases in the state are still high compared to previous peaks, including from delta variant last fall that made Utah and other Intermountain West states the nation’s hot spot for the virus.

Kim said there is no guarantee that the downward trend will continue.

“They say it will keep going lower. I do not know. Maybe. Maybe not. We do not know what a stable state of omicron looks like because we have never had it before,” he said. what makes him uncomfortable is that even though the governor stressed that COVID-19 is not disappearing, that’s how Utahns will react.

“Overall, the tone makes it harder to ramp up again,” Kim said.

While it is not realistic to expect the Utahns to continue to treat the virus in the same way, he said “it is really important to send the message and really stress that this may change. There is a huge level of uncertainty here and we as societies must respond to new variants or increases. “

With options like mask mandates and vaccine claims off the table in Utah, largely due to legislative opposition, Kim said it can be difficult to reassure the public that the state is ready to deal with what could come.

“Preparing people now, right now, when things are going well, is better than dropping it all when things are going badly,” the professor said, adding that “having specific details in a way underscores that we are ready for it. , and that you all should be too. “

When will Utah return to normal?

Checketts said the department is trying to report that because COVID-19 infections have “dropped significantly,” the state’s response is changing to treating the virus more like the flu or other endemic disease, where outbreaks are limited compared to a pandemic, though hospitalizations and deaths still occur.

It also means that it is up to the Utahns to decide what precautions to take.

“We really hope that individuals will also look at this information and also decide for themselves whether it is time for them to make changes in their behavior,” he said. It was clear during Friday’s press conference in the Utah Capitol when Checketts said he and state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen were the only speakers wearing masks.

More than a third of Utahs polled the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics before the press conference said it would still take a year or more for life to return to normal from COVID-19. Only 9% say it will happen over the next two months; 33% in the next three to six months and 16% were unsure.

The results are consistent previous polls done in Utah during the entire pandemic. This poll was conducted 7.-17. February by Dan Jones & Associates of 808 registered voters in Utah and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.

Laurie Healey, a Millcreek retiree who was at Disneyland on Thursday with her children and grandchildren, said she believes the world economy is a major victim of the pandemic as workers left their jobs and that it will take years to recovering.

Healey said the governor’s “steady state” plan does not change her timeline for a return to normalcy.

“I knew it would eventually come to that state. Where it was going to be something that we all just had to live with – we get our flu shot every year and now we have to get our COVID shots every year, ”she predicted. “It’s just the way life is going to be.”

Matthew Anderson, a member of the military serving at Hill Air Force Base, expressed his personal views, saying that a return to normalcy is already delayed and may come sooner as the world’s attention turns to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Given the current situations going on in the world, I will say very soon. Maybe not maybe normal, but I think it will ease COVID restrictions. I think people will start focusing their attention on more important things, “Anderson said.” It has been pulled out longer than it needed to gain power. ”

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