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Summit County looks to exit ‘full pandemic mode’

Health officials say positive COVID-19 trends in Summit County mean the pandemic could soon enter a new phase.

COVID transmission appears to be down to a level similar to before the January omicron surge. That could mean it’s time to “transition out of full pandemic mode.”

“Given the short time frame of which this surge occurred,” Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant said, “I think we are in really good shape moving forward towards a great summer and maybe, putting COVID, in the sense of a pandemic response, behind us as we move forward. So, that’s still to be determined, based on what occurs in the next month or so, but I’m very positive on where we’re headed.”

The new attitude about the pandemic doesn’t come with any official changes, and Summit County is still in the “high” transmission category. But Bondurant said the health department is working on new guidelines ahead of the Presidents Day holiday on February 21.

As part of the new messaging under consideration, Bondurant said it may soon be time to approach COVID as “endemic” in society. The difference, he said, lies in whether the virus will be a “reportable disease” in the future. The Utah Department of Health defines that as a disease or condition that must be reported to a public health office.

The Centers for Disease Control use the seasonal flu as an example of a virus in the endemic phase. An endemic disease is considered commonplace in society but not overwhelming to the healthcare system.

Bondurant said reasons to move out of the pandemic phase include declining cases and improved ability to treat those who get sick. There’s a surplus of monoclonal antibodies, which were formerly in short supply. Also, the Paxlovid antiviral treatment drug is in pharmacies. He said that option is “another tool in the toolbelt.”

In addition, Summit County has the state's highest vaccination rate at over 80%, and about 40% of the population have also gotten booster doses.

As the Summit County Health Department tracks the state of the pandemic and considers new guidelines to announce, it’s following several metrics. That’s because the state recently advised people not to get tested for COVID even if they have symptoms due to a test shortage. One is virus found in wastewater samples, which is also reflecting the downward trend.

“These curves that we’re seeing, I guess that we can believe that this is what’s occurring in our community,” Bondurant said. “When we layer that with the wastewater data, which is not biased by testing, we begin to see that we are on the positive side of the omicron curve, and things look really good moving into the springtime.”

He said his office will focus on hospitalization and wastewater numbers to follow the pandemic’s status. While trends nationwide also reflect declining transmission, he says the health department will closely watch what happens around holiday weekends when visitation is high.

With demand for COVID tests down, Summit County now advises anyone who wants to get a test to do so. Both rapid and PCR tests are available at all locations in the county, but the schedule for mobile testing sites has changed.

Mobile sites will be at the health department offices in Richardson Flat Monday, Wednesday and Friday, in Kamas Tuesday and in Coalville Thursday.

Bondurant said wait times for results to PCR tests analyzed in labs are down to 18 to 72 hours. During a period of high demand in January, people reported waiting as long as a week or more for results in PCR tests.

For more on COVID in Summit County, visit summitcountyhealth.org.

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