Viewmont High School students are being tested for COVID-19 at Bountiful School on Wednesday. The pediatric infectious physician urged Utah on Friday not to underestimate the effects of the omicron variant – even for children. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY – A pediatrician for infectious diseases on Friday urged Utahns not to underestimate the effects of the omicron variant – even for children.
“Right now, we are really facing one of the most difficult periods of two years in COVID and its impact around the world, even though omicron causes, on average, less serious diseases,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, Head of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah Health and Director of Hospital Epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital.
Utah nurses reported 11,128 new cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths on Friday. The seven-day moving average of new cases reached a new high of 9,827 per day and the average positive test rate is 37.2%, the Utah Department of Health said.
The day before, the Ministry of Health reported more than 12,200 new cases of COVID-19 – a state record for cases confirmed in one day. Gov. Spencer Cox noted at a news conference on Friday that cases among school children rose from about 150 a day at Christmas to about 3,000 on Thursday.
Home tests are not reported, so high numbers do not give a complete picture, Pavia said during a separate press conference on Friday.
“The very number of cases leads to an absolute flood of sick patients,” he added.
On Friday, 672 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Utah, 44 more than the previous day and another pandemic record. Intensive care units were filled from 93.9% and the total ICU utilization was 91.9% for patients with coronavirus and others, according to the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, hospital systems are undersized due to health professionals who are ill or helping sick family members.
With omicron, there are now “many more sick children,” whose numbers, according to Pavia, are about four times higher than at any time in Utah. The numbers of hospitalized children are growing, but not as fast as the numbers of cases in children, he said.
On average, 15 to 22 children with COVID-19 are hospitalized in the primary children’s hospital. Fewer children are admitted to the ICU compared to when there was a significant delta variant, he said. Almost every hospitalized child has not been vaccinated or has a condition that prevents the vaccine from working, the doctor added. Even two doses of the vaccine protect children “quite well” from hospitalization and three doses protect against infection and hospitalization.
Omicron affects children aged 0-4 – who are unable to get vaccines – more than any other variant, Pavia said.
The omicron variant tends to attack the upper respiratory tract in children, causing many semolina-like diseases, he said.
“It’s quite unfortunate if your child has it,” Pavia said, but it’s not as severe as pneumonia in children with the delta variant.
Because the disease is less severe, “real floods” of cases occur in emergency departments because children come with a variety of respiratory diseases, including coronavirus.
“As a result, everything is stretched for pediatric care,” Pavia said.
Hospitals are delaying operations that are considered insignificant and it is difficult to provide care for conditions such as cancer or trauma. That’s why the state needs to reduce the size of the increase – so that it can take care of everyone, said the specialist.
Some states, which began to see an increase in omicron cases two or three weeks before Utah, have already “peaked”, Pavia said. But it’s too early to try to predict when Utah will peak. For now, residents need to “ease the pressure” on hospital systems.
Cloth Masks: A Useless or Useful Tool?
On Friday, Cox and other government officials announced that residents with symptoms should assume they have COVID-19 and isolate themselves without seeking testing, as the state runs out of tests quickly. Leaders have urged residents to maintain tests for patients with comorbidities or for those close to at-risk people.
When asked about his views on masks, Cox said, “What we do know is that cloth masks don’t work at all. A cloth mask doesn’t do anything.”
Pavia criticized these remarks and called masks “one of our best tools,” especially when the tests end. Masks can be considered “good, better and best” – fabric masks are “better than nothing,” the doctor said, while other masks such as K95 and surgical masks provide better protection.
The CDC issued further guidelines on Friday stating that all masks, when properly fitted, provide some protection against the COVID-19 virus and urged people to consider using N95 or KN95 masks. “Our main message remains that any mask is better than none,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said in a statement to the Associated Press.
The governor was “misleading” when he questioned masks as a tool to prevent the spread, Pavia said. Masks play the biggest role when someone is sick to help prevent the virus from being transmitted to others, he said.
Pavia thanked Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of Salt Lake County’s health department and previous state epidemiologist, as well as Salt Lake County council, especially council chairwoman Laurie Stringham, held a 30-day mask mandate during a Thursday meeting after other council members sought to reverse it.
Pavia said the mask regulation would reduce pressure on critical hospital and emergency services. The supply of oral antivirals for COVID-19 in Utah should increase by February.
Then “we’ll be in a much better place to take care of people,” Pavia said.
More information from Utah
School-age children make up 2,797 new cases reported on Friday – 616 cases were aged 5-10, 500 cases were aged 11-13 and 1,681 cases were aged 14-17.
About 26,300 people have been tested for coronavirus since Thursday’s report.
Healthcare professionals also administered 11,201 doses of the vaccine, bringing the total dose in Utah to 4,695,762. Now 64% of people in Utah aged 5 and older have been fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Meanwhile, 38.2% of the population received a booster dose of the vaccine.
Among the cases confirmed on Friday were 5,102 breakthroughs, which means that people who were fully vaccinated tested positive for COVID-19. The state also announced five new breakthrough deaths. Since the vaccines were available in December 2020, 114,054 breakthroughs and 399 breakthroughs have been reported in Utah.
New deaths reported on Friday include:
- A woman from Davis County, 25-44, a resident of a long-term care facility.
- Davis County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A woman from Salt Lake County, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A man from Utah County, over the age of 85, hospitalized.
- A man from Utah County, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A man from Wasatch County, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Washington County woman, 25-44, hospitalized.