Summit Health Director Warns That COVID Vaccine Disparity Could Affect School Year
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough reported to the Health Board Monday that the county’s COVID-19 numbers are still in good shape though they’re inching up a little amid troubling signs that the pandemic isn’t over.
And given low vaccination numbers on the East Side, one board member is expecting that kids will be going back to school this fall wearing masks.
Health Board Member Doug Evans said he’s discouraged about the prospects for the coming school year, less than two months away.
“It breaks my heart after all of this that our kids are going to go back to school with masks,” he said. “Why are only 16% of kids 12 to 15 in Eastern Summit County vaccinated?”
Bullough told the board that while the number of cases is increasing, he hopes that it will soon hit a plateau.
He said he is most concerned about the positivity rate—which measures the percentage of people who test positive out of an entire group who have been tested.
The positivity rate in the county had been below five percent since early February. He said the rate has steadily increased since early June to 5.6%.
“We’ve said all along that we knew we weren’t going to wipe Covid out, and that this is about managing a highly contagious communicable disease, and made more contagious by the Delta variant,” Bullough said. “Right now it appears that about 80% of the cases state-wide are Delta, one of the highest rates of that particular variant in the country.”
Currently, Utah has the fifth-highest case rate in the nation. Summit County is a comparative exception to that trend.
“I don’t want to diminish the importance of the surge that we’re seeing, and I hesitate honestly to even use the word ‘surge,’” Bullough said. “Absolutely it is a surge state-wide. In Summit County, we’re seeing an increase, but it isn’t, at this point in time, a real alarming increase. We’re seeing somewhere in the ballpark of four cases a day across the county, the majority of those, being adjusted for population, on the East Side. Not all that long ago, four cases a day, I would have been jumping on the table and ecstatic. So I just want to put that in context. We are seeing an increase though.”
Concerning hospitalization numbers, Bullough looked at the state-level capacity of ICUs in facilities designated as Covid referral centers.
“We’ve gone from 11% to 19% of the ICU utilization statewide that’s Covid specific,” he said. “I was on a call last week with all of the hospital systems were giving quick updates. And they consistently all said that there’s been increases of Covid-like symptoms in the emergency departments. They’re seeing increased hospitalizations, and they are generally beginning to feel like they’re taking a step back in time.”
He also reported numbers from the state that, he said, counter the assumption that Covid doesn’t affect young people.
Bullough said that since the beginning of the pandemic, over 80,800 Utah children, under 18 years old have been diagnosed with Covid. He said 729 needed to be hospitalized, 45 needed ICU care, 80 developed MIS-C syndrome, which inflames different body parts in children; and two children with underlying conditions died.
“The assumption that we can, without masks, without mitigative efforts and without high vaccine uptake, just resume school as normal, I think is probably not going to be factual,” he said. “I think we’re going to find ourselves confronting some issues in the next school year. We have a high disparity of vaccine uptakes in different regions of the county. Park City is well over 70 percent of those eligible, quite a lot lower than that in North Summit, somewhere in the ballpark of 25 percent, and South Summit falls somewhere in the middle. So I think all of us have our work cut out for us.”