Utah is seeing another spike in new cases of COVID-19, with state health officials attributing the surge to the “stealth” variant BA.2.
However, hospitalization rates remain low and health officials say they are still analyzing the potential impact going forward.
“Forecasting is always a slippery slope,” said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain Healthcare, at a news conference Thursday “The virus has behaved in similar situations in the past.”
The state counted 3,385 new cases in the seven days ending Sunday, up about 5% from the previous week and a sharp increase over the past month, while the state had been counting just about 600 new cases per week in early April .
The BA.2 variant was first spotted earlier this year and quickly spread across the United States. It is considered by the World Health Organization to be the “subline” of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. It’s a different version of omicron than BA.1, which was responsible for the spike that hit the Northeast late last year.
Studies have shown that BA.2 is “inherently more transmissible” than omicron BA.1, but it does not appear to cause as many serious illnesses as omicron BA.1, leading to a rapid increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for about a year led month before crashing just as quickly.
Intermountain Healthcare facilities are seeing similar patterns with the new variant, with fewer hospital admissions compared to overall cases. But the large number of new cases has put some strain on hospitals in the area, and Webb said Thursday he expects those numbers to only increase.
One problem is the inaccuracy of the current Covid case numbers. There’s no easy way to track them, and right now many people are doing tests at home, especially with children, Webb said.
“It’s actually quite difficult to track these rates because most parents test their children at home,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, Director of Epidemiology at Intermountain Healthcare Primary Children’s Hospital. “That’s why they don’t show up in the numbers . But child test positivity has also increased, likely five-fold from its lowest point in early April. We’re getting more and more calls about sick kids.”
The good news is that child hospitalizations have not increased significantly, which may be due to vaccination and some herd immunity.
“It has become very clear that as the virus has evolved over time and immunity has waned after the first two doses of vaccine, a truly effective vaccine for all ages requires three doses and that is really a big step forward ‘, called Pavia.
Children aged five to 11 are now eligible for a third dose of the vaccine, and it remains available for older adolescents and adults.
Intermountain Healthcare has switched to ‘endemic’ mode in its response to COVID-19 as officials say they believe the virus is here to stay. Rates will ebb and flow over certain timeframes, but world leaders have said they don’t plan on mask requirements, lockdowns or other responses anytime soon.
Vaccination is still the greatest protection against Covid and leads to the ultimate goal of societal immunity, doctors said Thursday.
“The way we are pushing Covid has to be intentional,” Webb said. “It has to have a strategy that fits an environment that we need to be able to move around in and use the tools that we have.”
Vaccination data is “robust” at this point and suggests it offers real help to both individuals and the wider community, Webb added.
“We really need to move further as a community towards a model where, even though we’re sick of Covid, we don’t bury our heads in the sand,” he said.
To learn more about the latest Covid case numbers in Utah, visit www.coronavirus.utah.gov.
Elle Cabrera covers breaking news and issues. Please help us continue producing this content at thespectrum.com/subscribe.