Health Official: Summit County's First COVID Death a 'Turning Point'

Jul 7, 2020

Credit courtesy of Summit County

As the Summit County Health Board met in their regular monthly session,on Monday County Health Director Rich Bullough reviewed the pandemic numbers that are concerning, and those more on the positive side; and commented on the county’s first recorded COVID-19 death.


Bullough told the Health Board that to date, the county has seen 536 cases total, and 47 of those have been hospitalized.

He said the county saw 21 more cases over the weekend, a pretty significant uptick. And Bullough said he expects that the Fourth of July gatherings will likely lead to a surge in a week or two.


The Health Director said that previously they talked about the cases surging in counties around them. But now, he said, they’re here.


He added that the county’s first COVID death has had an impact on them.


“That obviously is a turning point for us,” he said. “And it doesn’t necessarily change the way we work. But I think it certainly changes the way we view where we are at in this response.”


He said he could give few details about the fatality except that he was a male over 65.


“He was significantly older than 65,” he said. “He was a fighter—had been in the hospital for an extended duration of time. We all were very hopeful. And we, in fact, some of us had heard that he was improving. And then, unfortunately, appears to have taken a turn for the worse.”


Bullough said he’s mindful of the impacts on the local economy, while he’s also following the troubling numbers from the state.


“From early in June, the state has multiple days with one period of time where we had an incidence plateau, but multiple days of incidence increase,” he said. “And it’s not a coincidence that this began when we went to the Yellow phase. We had stabilized it to some extent state-wide, and it began to climb. I know that if there are individuals from the business community listening—our intent in public health is to not completely squash this thing. We know that there’s a balancing point between the economy and COVID and protecting health and safety. And certainly the economy is tied to health and safety. And so I think in some respects we’re kind of in the middle of a grand experiment, if you will, to find out where that balance is, and how we can manage this disease relative to controlling it.”


The majority of cases right now are in the age group between 15 to 44.


“And we more and more and more are hearing the public argument that that’s okay, because they tend to have better outcomes,” he said. “That’s accurate, that they have better outcomes than older adults and people with co-morbid conditions. But they continue to carry the disease, and increasingly they are being hospitalized with it. The entire demographic of this has shifted. The proportion, from early in the outbreak, of our total cases that fall into this group, in a short period of time has increased 15 percent. That can be tied directly, and we’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen pictures of large gatherings. We all know individuals in this age group that are not necessarily practicing the best behaviors. And as I’ve observed, completely anecdotally, walking into businesses in Summit County, more often than not the people I’m seeing without masks are within this demographic.”


He said the amount of testing has increased both for the state and Summit County. But the additional testing is not enough to account for the surge in cases.


He also said a University of Utah study has found, that 4% of the county population is showing antibodies—meaning that herd immunity is a long way off.


With all those troubling indicators, still, Bullough said the county isn’t in the dire situation it faced in April.


The percentage of positive cases being hospitalized and fatalities in the state are down—again, because the cases are occurring to the young.


In a national ranking of cases per 100,000 people, Summit County is positioned in the middle. Bullough said that’s good news, considering they were among the hot spots in the U.S. at the beginning of the pandemic.