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COVID cases, mostly among unvaccinated, surged in early November

Courtesy of Summit County

Summit County saw 50 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed on November 5, the highest total since mid-January. While the spike has since leveled off, local health officials say the key remains the same: vaccines.

The graph of Summit County’s COVID cases looks like a miniature mountain range. There’s a major peak in the middle — January and February of this year — and valleys between smaller summits that occurred last spring and this fall.

But recently, the case numbers reached heights not seen since last winter, when 50 new cases were reported November 5. Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant said this was actually the midpoint of a surge that began October 18 and one that started abating only recently.

He said the county is now in what’s known as “incidence plateau,” when the number of new cases has stopped climbing and started holding steady.

And despite the recent well-publicized surges in local schools, Bondurant said the new cases are occurring across age groups.

“Everybody is contributing right now, and I think it’s not a conversation about ‘What age group is it?’, it’s more a conversation about vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, and helping people understand that vaccination really is the key to this response right now,” Bondurant said.

He said there were 176 cases recorded in the week that started Nov. 9. 155 of those are among unvaccinated people.

“Based on what we’re seeing, the unvaccinated are driving cases,” Bondurant said. “But the hospitalizations are still, at least for Summit County, fairly low.”

Three age groups comprise more than 75% of new cases: one- to 14-year-olds, 25- to 44-year-olds and 45- to 64-year-olds.

Bondurant said contact tracers haven’t tied the surge in cases to social gatherings or workplaces, but rather to spread among family members. While there is good news that people are heeding guidance to stay home while sick, Bondurant indicated spread among family members might give people pause heading into the holidays.

He stressed the importance of staying away from others while sick and he noted that children seeking a vaccine this week should reach peak immunity in time for winter break.

He also spoke highly of an antiviral drug he expects will receive emergency use authorization in coming weeks. He said that pill, coupled with vaccines, would give health care officials both proactive and reactive tools to fight the pandemic.

“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “That’s the second biggest gamechanger for this response.”

In the meantime, Bondurant said it is key for people to be vaccinated. While 97% of the county’s eligible population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, that number was significantly lower among five- to 11-year-olds. Bondurant told the Summit County Council on Monday that 35% of children in that age group received a shot as of Sunday, six days after the county started delivering them.

“We have to get people vaccinated in order to stop this,” he said. “As I said, in the last week we had 155 cases of unvaccinated people, which means that 155 people are now COVID-positive in our community and were not vaccinated despite it being available for over 11 months now.”

Information about vaccine clinics and booster shots can be found at summitcountyhealth.org/vaccine or by calling 243-5320.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.