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Wastewater, hospitalizations show Summit County continues downward COVID-19 trend

Summit County Health Department
Summit County Health Department
Summit County Health Department

Governor Spencer Cox delivered his State of the State address Thursday. He highlighted what he called a silver lining in Summit County's COVID-19 case counts in his opening remarks.

Within the first two minutes of Governor Cox's State of the State address on Thursday night he highlighted Summit County as a bellwether COVID-19 infection rate indicator for Utah, and a bright spot during the pandemic.

"There are a few silver linings," said Cox. "I'm encouraged that Utah's currently has the sixth lowest hospitalization rate in the nation, and that our rate is less than half of the national average. Experts also believe that Summit County has already started declining and assure me that the rest of the State will soon follow."

Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant said although testing has been the main way COVID has been measured throughout the pandemic, it’s not the best way to measure trends in the county right now due to increasing demand and a short supply of tests amid the omicron surge. It also doesn’t take into account the large number of people who get tested in Summit County, but don’t live here. Test results are reported to a patient's home health department, not the department where they were tested.

Bondurant said the trends do appear to be moving in the right direction, but added that the health department is relying on two measurements apart from testing to better understand COVID trends in Summit County.

"There are two components of this response that are not biased by the availability of testing whether there's an abundance or a lack of testing," he said. "One is wastewater data, and two is hospitalizations. That's why we have always focused on hospitalizations in Summit County.”

The prevalence of COVID in wastewater is a good indicator of just how widespread the virus is in a certain area. According to the county’s COVID dashboard, wastewater COVID concentrations have decreased in the Coalville, Silver Creek, and East Canyon areas in the last 10 days. The wastewater data echoes the county’s number of daily case counts, which has also been declining since a high of 237 on January 10th.

Statewide data shows the beginnings of a plateau in case rates. Bondurant said in December that the county has usually been about 10 days ahead of the rest of Utah when it comes to COVID trends.

Despite the encouraging data, Bondurant also added that neither the Governor's office nor anyone from Capitol Hill had contacted him or his office before the speech, or moving forward with a joint resolution to overturn Summit County’s mask mandate last week. He said the state report might miss important data like tourism or workforce coming into the county from elsewhere.

"Governor Cox mentioned in his State of the State address that experts believe that Summit County has started to decline," Bondurant said. "Unfortunately, there was nobody at the Summit County Health Department that was contacted regarding this decline. And so, when he refers to experts, I'm not exactly sure who that is. And as the local health director for Summit County, we just didn't have any interaction with the folks who are discussing it on Capitol Hill."

The Utah Legislature terminated the mask mandates put in place by Summit and Salt Lake Counties with a vote on Friday. The joint resolution terminated the health orders immediately.

In a statement after the vote, Bondurant said, in part: “I remain firm in my belief that the actions taken by Summit County and the Summit County Health Department over the last two years have saved lives. Although the outcome of the vote … provides a different direction than our Public Health Order, I still believe the action taken to require masks in public places, including schools, was the right one for Summit County.”

Bondurant added he would not be commenting further on the legislature’s vote.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.