Summit County Health Director: Stop Comparing COVID-19 to Flu Season

Sep 15, 2020

Credit Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

The Summit County Board of Health heard Monday that the county’s COVID-19 numbers are encouraging, and trouble spots haven’t appeared yet with the reopening of schools.


Health Director Rich Bullough sounded some notes of concern. Cases are surging in the younger population. And citizens should remember, he said, that COVID-19 is a deadly virus.


During the Health Board’s regular session, Rich Bullough said that the credit for any positive numbers goes to the community.


He said that up to Monday, they have recorded 919 cases and 53 hospitalizations due to the virus. On average they are seeing 4 to 6 new cases a day.


Bullough said they are doing pretty well, compared to some of their neighboring counties.


“I don’t want to paint a rosy picture. But counties around us are surging again,” he said. “And many of the counties—Utah County, for example, 20 consecutive days of incidence increase. We in Summit County are holding our own. We’re doing pretty well.”


He said their case numbers are a little higher than they want. The county is recording 11.9 cases per 100,000 population. He said their goal is 10.


However, the overall state number is 18 per 100,000. And Utah County is a major hot spot, with 38.


Bullough said in looking at the local schools, they have had three cases in the Park City School District. He said those are students, in different schools.


“That means that we’re not even having discussions about moving those classes, or those schools, to more remote learning,” he said. “We’re not even close to having those discussions. It also means, though, that there are significant numbers of students in Park City School District that are on quarantine. And that becomes important because that’s our tool to continue to keep schools open. And by open, I mean in-person learning. They’re gonna remain open, it’s just what proportion of learning is remote versus in-person.”


He reviewed the criteria for going back to remote learning.


“The thresholds where we would begin having conversations about going to more remote learning are three or more cases in a single classroom, or 15 cases in a school, or 10 percent of the student body, whichever is smaller,” Bullough said. “And we’re not even close.”


He said they know of two other school cases in the county—a student who is remote-learning; and an adult, he said, associated with a school.


Looking at two business sectors that got a Board of Health waiver this summer, he said one case has appeared at a child care center, which was quickly isolated. And he said fitness centers haven’t seen any cases.


The Health Director said one troubling note is that youth in the 20-24 age range are driving their case numbers. He noted a recent experience he had on the trails.


“I was out on a mountain bike ride this weekend, and ran into a group of young men, high-school-age men, they appeared to be,” he said. “They were in a side-by-side ATV, and there were 11 of them packed in there. They had music going. They were sitting on top of each other. They had no masks. Seeing that scene really raised—I think there’s a lot more of that going on than we think. And I think our messaging moving forward, we’re gonna need to continue to focus on that group. I dunno, having been a young male, I don’t know how you change behaviors of young males. But it is a dangerous risk.”


Bullough also said that people may be getting complacent about the coronavirus, thinking that it’s no worse than the average flu. But he said it’s ten times more deadly than influenza.


“I think the public message is that we need to quit making that comparison. This stuff is a lot more prevalent, it’s spread very easily, and it is significantly more deadly than is influenza.”


He said a survey from the Heart Association shows that for this year, Covid is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease in first place and cancer, in second.


Bullough said the national fatality rate is 2.5 to 3.5 percent, or basically up to 4 patients dying out of every 100 positive cases. He said in Utah, they’re just below one percent, since they are testing a lot.


“But if you look at a country like Sweden, where they have not put in place any significant controls, and they’ve been operating under the notion that they can reach herd immunity naturally, their case-fatality rate is right now at about 7 percent,” Bullough said. “Imagine that, seven out of a hundred. That’s devastatingly high.”