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Summit County Health Department planning ahead for COVID variants, monkeypox

Summit County Health Department.png
Summit County Health Department
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The Summit County Health Department headquarters near Quinn's Junction.

There has not been a reported monkeypox case in Summit County, but local health officials are still preparing for potential spread.

It’s high summer, and no one knows how many people in the community have COVID. Health officials say the virus is still here but not making most people who get it seriously ill, and the CDC just lowered Summit and Wasatch counties’ risk levels from high to moderate.

State-sponsored test sites have largely gone away, and at-home tests aren’t as reliable - if people are even using them. Summit County Health Director Dr. Phil Bondurant told the Board of Health on Monday that despite that lack of hard data on infections, the county is in a good spot.

“We currently are in really good shape," Bondurant said. "We’re not seeing hospitalizations, and the wastewater data support a lower case count than what was originally projected by the CDC. There was estimates it was 7-10 times higher than what was actually being reported. But when we take an assessment and take a look at the cases that are reported- that line - and then what’s being reported in the wastewater, it actually might not be as high as what we thought.”

Bondurant made clear, however, that COVID isn’t over, and the county will keep an eye on things as the season changes.

“There will come a time, I suspect, that we’re going to see a surge this year," he said. "If we see this BA 2.75 and this Centaurus variant take off like it’s supposed to, or they’re projecting it will - we could find ourselves back in a situation where we are absolutely advocating for masks.”

Summit County and Salt Lake County implemented mask mandates during the omicron variant surge last winter, but those rules were eventually overturned by the state legislature.

Nancy Porter, the county’s new epidemiologist, said the return of school will bring added risk.

“I think the school year is going to be interesting, to say the least," Porter said. "A little tough with some of these new variants that are circling around.”

The health department is planning to launch a new coronavirus dashboard later this month as the school year begins. The plan is to have detailed thresholds that signal to the community what level of local risk there is to residents and visitors.

The board also briefly discussed the national monkeypox outbreak. The governors of California, New York, and Illinois have declared a state of emergency over the virus.

Bondurant said Summit County remains at low risk for that virus.

The disease is largely spreading during sex. No female in Utah has tested positive for monkeypox so far.

Thirty-seven confirmed and probable cases of the virus have been reported statewide, with 30 of those in Salt Lake County. There has not been a reported monkeypox case in Summit County as of Monday.

Ninety-nine percent of those who contract the virus recover, according to the CDC.

Hundreds of Salt Lake County residents have been vaccinated for monkeypox. Tests and a very small number of vaccines are currently on hand in Summit County. Officials expect more to come in as the federal government distribution efforts progress.

Vaccinations are currently being reserved for anyone who has had close, intimate contact with someone who has monkeypox, or men who have had multiple sexual partners in a short time period. For vaccine information, contact the Summit County Health Department.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.