Governor Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference on Friday about COVID-19 and the omicron variant at the Capitol in Salt Lake City. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 7-8 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is rapidly running tests on COVID-19 after conducting nearly 50,000 tests a day while the omicron variant is spreading through the state, Governor Spencer Cox said on Friday.
He said Utah did not receive the tests he ordered because they are now in an unfinished order. Over the next week or two, the state will receive hundreds of thousands of tests.
“But in the meantime, we have to look at things a little differently,” Cox told a news conference at the State Capitol.
Utah again surpassed its record number of new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with health officials reporting 12,990. The state also confirmed a record number of hospitalizations and a percentage of positivity this week.
Dr. Leisha Nolen, a state epidemiologist, said residents should assume they have COVID-19 if they have symptoms, and stay home and away from others for five days until they have symptoms. The state is also suspending its Test to Stay school program, she said.
Testing should be reserved for people who suffer from comorbidities or who plan to visit someone at high risk if they become infected with coronavirus, says Nolen.
This announcement sparked a worried tweet from Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of Salt Lake County, who once held Nolen’s job.
“I’m skeptical about the usefulness of counting cases for the next few weeks. We’ve exhausted testing to the maximum and now we’re telling symptomatic people not to get tested. Our cases will seem to stagnate, but that’s just because we can’t test.” other people, “Dunn said.
Cases are increasing rapidly
Since Christmas Day – when the omicron overtook the delta – the average daily number of cases has increased from about 1,200 to more than 9,500, the governor noted. The percentage of daily tests that were positive also increased from 13.2% to 36.5%.
The number of hospitalized cases rose from 434 at Christmas to 638 on Thursday, and cases among school children rose from about 150 a day at Christmas to about 3,000 on Thursday, Cox added.
On Friday, the Utah Senate announced that Senate President Stuart Adams had tested positive for COVID-19.
“President Adams began to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms on Wednesday night. The next day he tested positive for COVID. much better and will be ready to start the meeting on Tuesday, “said Aundrea Peterson, deputy head of the senate.
Last week, health officials in Salt Lake and Summit districts issued nationwide camouflage orders to help slow the spread of the virus. Earlier this week, the governor announced that employees of state buildings in these districts were exempt from such camouflage mandates. On Thursday, Republicans at the Salt Lake District Council tried to repeal the mask order, but the proposal failed.
Amid party tensions over President Mandate Laurie Stringham, a Republican, she said she would work with state officials next week to come up with a solution amid high COVID-19 nationwide proliferation. Utah lawmakers, who begin their annual legislative session on Tuesday, have said they will address the mandates.
When Friday asked about the masks, Cox said, “What we do know is that cloth masks don’t work at all. A cloth mask doesn’t do anything.”
The CDC issued further guidelines on Friday stating that all masks, when properly fitted, provide some protection against the COVID-19 virus.
“Masks are made to contain droplets and particles that you breathe, cough or sneeze,” the statement said. “If they fit close to your face, they can also give you some protection from particles spread by others, including the virus that causes COVID-19.”
“Whatever product you choose, it should fit you well (ie fit snugly on your face without any gaps along the edges or around the nose) and be comfortable enough when worn properly (covers your nose and mouth) to turn on when you need. “
The CDC has also recommended wearing a disposable mask under a cloth mask among its designs for better fit and extra protection for these two types of masks.
Most experts now look at disposable surgical masks instead, Cox said, but believe they probably don’t work against the omicron as well as they did in previous variants.
He said he believes the N95 masks are the only effective way to limit the spread of the omicron, but it depends on how it is worn.
“Every time you’re in a room and you see someone pulling off their mask to catch their breath, the virus is spreading now,” Cox said. “We all have to do these calculations. If you’re annoyed, have strength and are a healthy person, you make your decisions based on this information.”
But if you are at risk due to illness or close to those at risk, “then the N95 mask could make a significant difference and really help you,” the governor said.
He noted that the pandemic had done something “very cruel” by preventing people from being close to each other and creating tension.
“Human beings need closeness. We have to be close to each other, we have to come together,” Cox said.
This shortage caused people “tension”, he added.
We need more than ever to connect, we need to find ways to connect. We must give people grace.
– Utah Governor Spencer Cox
“People will be hospitalized. There will be people (who) will die on the omicron. … We need more than ever to connect, we need to find ways to connect. We must give people grace. People react differently. We fall into our tribes, where we are back and we are waging these alpha fights, “Cox said.
“I think most Utah are tired of it, I think most Utahs understand the need for closeness, the need for care, the need for love.”
The governor said he was more optimistic than during the pandemic that the rapid spread of the omicron “would help us move on, giving it the type of immunity we needed all the time.”
Testing won’t stop the spread, Nolen said.
“If you have symptoms, you most likely have COVID, so the benefits of this test are actually reduced,” she added.
Cox noted that residents usually do not get tested for other viruses. Testing was important for other variants that had slower incubation times, Cox said, and testing could help identify those who were exposed to the cases. But omicron is “much, much more portable” and difficult to grasp.
By the time someone gets tested, he has “infected a lot of people who have already infected a lot of people,” so contact tracking is “virtually impossible,” Cox said.
The data show that omicron is 25% less severe than delta, although “we also have much more,” Cox added. At the same time, more people are being vaccinated – almost 70% of people aged 12 and over – and many people have had infections before.
Cox said that according to leading hospitals across the state, most coronavirus patients in intensive care units stay there longer with the delta variant than with the omicron variant.
On the positive side, Cox said vaccines and revaccinations protect against serious illness thanks to the omicron variant. Those who are vaccinated and strengthened go to the hospital in much smaller numbers than those who are not, he said.
Test to stay suspended
Utah State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson stressed that teachers across the state are “exhausted” as they continue to face a rapid rise in cases. One school district recently left 1 in 6 employees for various reasons at the same time.
When schools experience a high number of COVID-19 cases and transmission, she said it creates situations for students “where they really can’t learn anymore.” It emphasizes families, teachers and students, Dickson said.
Distance education “is not something we would like to do permanently”, but the state has the tools to implement distance learning, she added.
Giving schools a chance to “pause and reset” can slow down transmission and help schools get back to a safe environment.
“This pandemic has proven to be everything but unpredictable, and we all realize that we need to be very flexible and adaptable as we go through this current wave,” said Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.
He said state lawmakers agreed that the right approach to dealing with the increase over the next two months was for people to assume they had COVID-19, if they had symptoms, stayed at home for five days and then wearing veils for another five days.
He called on people to save tests for immunocompromised people.
During the legislative session, Wilson said leaders would look at what to do with the Test to Stay program, which was created when the disease was much more serious.
“We strive to be as agile as possible to respond to the current needs of the state of Utah,” he added.