Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough says he’s very happy to see a decline in the county’s COVID-19 case numbers while its vaccine operation is moving to over-70 residents as its next priority.
Bullough told his Board of Health Monday they’re certainly not out of the woods yet, and residents still need to maintain safeguards.
The Board of Health met on Monday as the Health Department announced that the third case of the more-contagious “U.K. variant” of COVID-19 has appeared in Summit County.
Bullough said the local case is a young female under 30.
He said the U.K. variant is believed to be more contagious than other COVID-19 strains, but it isn’t more deadly. The county’s announcement also said the currently-available vaccines are considered effective against this strain.
Updating the basic numbers, Bullough said the county has had seven deaths. The most recent, this past week, was a Kamas Valley resident who died while under treatment in Salt Lake.
The county has had a total of 4,600 cases and 140 hospitalizations over the course of the pandemic so far. More recently, it has recorded 454 14-day case counts.
Bullough said he’s not surprised, but still very happy, to see the case counts decline following the surge around Christmas and New Year’s. It’s actually a state-wide trend that appeared before the local decline.
“We as a state began that decline phase actually almost a week, actually a little bit more than a week before Summit County and Wasatch County did,” he said. “So I’m thrilled with the data. We entered that plateau period and then a decline period. Maybe even at least as important is our current positivity rate. Compared to surrounding counties and compared to the state, we’re doing really well in Summit County. And in fact, yesterday’s rate was under 9 percent positivity. It’s been a heck of a long time since we’ve been that low.”
Still, he said the case numbers are still too high. Summit and most counties in Utah are still listed in the High Transmission Index. Bullough said the case numbers are still being driven by small gatherings. The precautions of masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing are still recommended.
Bullough said he hasn’t seen a surge since Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Attendees at the meeting wondered if there will be an impact from gatherings around the upcoming Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day.
It’s also the case their hospital spaces are maxed out. He pointed to a recent policy from the Park City Medical Center.
“They are sending some individuals home that they would normally enter, under typical conditions, they would hospitalize. And they send them home with home-monitoring equipment. It is safe. It is a proven technique. But it is also an indication that the hospitals are pretty much maxed out. The falling rates, obviously, are a good sign. But as we’ve talked about before, when you look at a rate, it’s a few weeks down the road before it hits a hospital. And that’s both on the increasing-hospital utilization and the decreasing-hospital utilization. So we would hope that if those trends of new cases continue to decline, we would also see a decline in hospitalization.
Concerning vaccinations, Bullough said he was incredibly happy to report they have received a one-time shipment of 900 doses. He said those will all be in arms by the end of this week.
County officials have said they’re using up what they get. They’re also hoping in time they will be receiving 600 or 700 doses a week.
The County announced that as of last Friday, registration was over for the priority groups, which included non-hospital medical workers, First Responders and teachers. They made it clear, though, activity will continue well into February as those group members that have registered are going to their appointments and getting shots.
But Bullough said the priority now will be residents over 70. And recipients in that age group will have to be residents of Summit County.
The state policy for the previous groups was that non- county residents, often local employees, could get shots here. Bullough said that was actually a net gain, because there were more cases where Summit County residents got vaccinations outside of the county.
Bullough said that recently Utah has improved its performance in terms of vaccine delivery.
“Utah has been called out for the delays in delivering vaccines. And we’ve been called out on the national news. Since local health departments ramped up the effort to deliver these vaccines, we’ve moved from about 40th in the nation to 7th. We are currently 7th among the states from the time we receive vaccines to the time we deliver them. Our health district is tied with Salt Lake for being the second-highest vaccine rate per capita in the state of Utah.”
The top ranking goes to San Juan County, which has a lower population, with many residents served there by the Navajo Reservation medical system.
The manager for the local vaccine operation, Nursing Supervisor Derek Moss, was asked how long it will take to vaccinate the county’s over-70 population.
“Based on my current forecasts, if we average 400 a week, which is what we were averaging prior to this week, we’re about two months out before we get through this population. If we can increase that to 600 a week, we’re approximately five weeks out. And that’s effective today, effective this week. And if we could get that up to 700 a week, which is hopefully where we’re gonna be forecasted going forward, then it’ll be four weeks until we get through this population—the plan’s not to completely get all the way through this group before we open up the next group—that’s at least, most of the way.”
Answering a question from Health Board Member Chris Ure, Bullough said while some county residents were required to operate last year as essential workers, the state had decided not to place them in the priority groups.
The staff also told Health Board Chairman Chris Cherniak that if a person tests positive, they won’t get a vaccine for at least 90 days.
“That’s an important point. So if you’re 70-plus group and tomorrow you get tested positive, you’re out of the loop for 90 days. (Moss) Well, we wouldn’t want to give it to them while they’ve actively sick anyway. That would be contra-indicative. (Bullough) The logic behind that is, Chris, that there is some level of immunity with a positive Covid, and the estimates are that that immunity lasts at least 90 days.”
Finally, Bullough said they’re expecting the state will receive increased supplies by the end of March—though that’s said with fingers crossed, since they’ve been disappointed before. If the projection is correct, doses could be making their way to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.