COVID cases surge through county, state
Holiday travel and gatherings are having the effect that health experts feared – a huge number of new COVID-19 cases and a rise in hospitalizations.
Summit County keeps setting records.
The county recorded 216 new cases of COVID on Tuesday. That’s a new high, after several other record highs in recent weeks, and it just counts residents – tourists with COVID don’t count toward that number.
What tourists do count toward when they get sick is occupied hospital beds. Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant said Tuesday the hospital is getting crowded.
“In speaking with our partners at the hospital, just around the corner from us here, we're seeing a sharp rise in hospitalizations, both in County residents and those that are visiting here directly related to COVID," Bondurant said. "I felt it was important that we put out an advisory that while at this moment masks are not required, masks still have the potential to slow transmission to break this spike and help us get beyond the Omicron surge.”
The county’s health advisory, issued Tuesday, isn’t an ordinance and therefore isn’t legally enforceable, but it calls for masks to be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status. It also recommends higher quality masks such as KN95s or KF94s.
It also asks residents to get vaccinated and boosted, and to avoid gatherings where people are unvaccinated.
Bondurant said that even though Omicron has so far shown to be less fatal than previous variants, it’s still getting some people seriously sick.
That message has been amplified by county school districts, which have issued reminders about vaccines, social distancing, masks, staying home when ill, getting tested, and reporting positive tests. The Park City School District also began a voluntary test to start program this week.
Bondurant said he believes this surge will be short-lived based on what’s been happening in other parts of the world. But he said that if the situation worsens here, he may put stricter measures into place.
The health department has the authority to close businesses and limit gatherings, but Bondurant said those are at the very far end of the spectrum of responses to the surge.
“It’s just not our intent to close any businesses or to stop any events," he said. "It's simply putting in measures that we know work to help keep our businesses open to keep their doors open their staff healthy, which is an important part of this to help them do the things that that we can to keep that business thriving and open, especially during this critical economic time for some accounting.”
Bondurant recommended the Summit County Council end its school mask mandate on Dec. 31, 2021, citing available vaccines as a reason for managing the pandemic less strictly. The county does have an emergency health order in place through June 2022 which allows for the mask mandate to be reinstated if Bondurant chooses to do so.
He also admitted on Tuesday that vaccine numbers among younger children have been lower than expected – which may factor into future policy changes.
“We didn't quite see that increase that we were expecting or at least what was being shared with us in terms of parents interested in the vaccine," he said. "The numbers are a little bit lower than we had hoped. And so at the time, the decision I still stand by was the right decision, but as new factors as new things pop up. Yeah, we definitely need to revisit a few things.”
Without a mask mandate, Utah schools are still subject to the statewide Test to Stay program. Under that program, schools with fewer than 1500 students are required to have students test negative for COVID to attend school if there are 30 active cases on a campus within a 14-day period.
Park City High School’s COVID dashboard says there are currently 33 active COVID cases on campus. Parents have not received notice that test to stay has started, and the health department and school district did not respond to questions about protocols on campus.
Around Summit County, some businesses and government offices began returning to measures not in place since last winter – such as remote work for employees and outdoor events.
The swearing-in ceremony of Mayor-elect Nann Worel and city councilors Jeremy Rubell and Tana Toly had previously been set to occur indoors on Tuesday, but COVID concerns moved it to the steps in front of the Marsac building.
Statewide, the New Year’s weekend resulted in almost 15,000 people testing positive for COVID as of Monday afternoon.
Tuesday’s update from the Utah Department of Health added another 4,600 new cases to the numbers so far this week.
Utah also recorded an additional 24 deaths from COVID since New Years Eve. None of those deaths were from either Summit or Wasatch Counties.