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Coronavirus cases are on the decline in Summit County but continue to rise statewide, leading to full emergency rooms and a high number of hospitalizations.
There were 854 people hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19 as of Thursday, a record number since the pandemic began, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. The previous record was 606 patients in December 2020.
Dr. Wing Province, an emergency physician and medical director of Park City Hospital, said during a press conference on Thursday that around 20 to 25% of local hospital visits are because of COVID. Although many of those patients can return home, some are admitted while others are later transferred to COVID hubs around the state.
“We continue to see it on top of everything else that we see in the emergency department this time of year like ski and snowboarding accidents,” he said. “… It’s certainly keeping us on our toes.”
Although there are fewer patients in the state’s intensive care units than other points in the pandemic, the utilization rate remains above the threshold of 85% when ICU capacity is considered full. The measure represents the room needed for new patients, possible staffing shortages and the accessibility to specialized services.
Around two-thirds of all patients hospitalized at Intermountain Healthcare facilities are not fully vaccinated, the health care system said. In Summit County, around 14% of eligible residents have not completed a vaccination series, yet they are accounting for half or more of all confirmed cases.
Some patients are even being readmitted to the hospital after being discharged because of the long-term effects COVID has or how their body reacts to the virus even days or weeks later, according to Province. He spoke of a young Park City resident who was active before contracting COVID and now struggles to catch their breath walking to the bathroom.
“A lot of people, I think, just pay attention to the number of positive tests and really the true marker of how severe this disease is, is in hospitalizations,” he said. “I’ve been hearing people say omicron is less severe and therefore we don’t need to take it as serious … but the reality is, look at our hospitalizations, they’re still really, really high.”
Scarcity in COVID testing is also bringing more people to emergency rooms. However, these individuals are not included in the hospitalization count unless they are admitted.
“We’re actually seeing people willing to pay for an emergency department visit just to get a COVID test, even though they really don’t have a lot of symptoms or severe disease, to get tested,” Province said. “And that’s certainly making it difficult to take care of the patients who are the sickest and who really need to be there.”
Province speculated that a lack of testing could be contributing to the decline in Summit County COVID cases but said other factors like the mask mandate, which lawmakers recently terminated, protected residents. Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant previously told The Park Record that he believes Summit County has had adequate testing capacity and that other indicators, like wastewater samples, validate the case data showing the decline.
Visits to the ER are also increasing because of people seeking therapeutics or medicine, including highly sought-after monoclonal antibody treatments, for COVID. Emergency departments previously offered four or five monoclonal antibodies for treatment against the delta variant, but only one is effective against the omicron variant and it is saved for the sickest patients.
To help prevent overcrowding in ERs, Province advises individuals to purchase a pulse oximeter, which reads oxygen levels and heart rates, to determine if they need to visit the emergency department — which should be reserved for those with severe disease. Urgent care clinics are an option for those with less critical symptoms.
If an individual who is in overall good health tests positive for COVID, Province suggests they stay home, hydrate and take care of themselves.
“Just don’t go out. When you go out with COVID, you continue this pandemic, but when you stay home you stop the spread and that’s really important,” he said.
After two years, Province understands people are fatigued when asked to follow the best practices of wearing masks, getting vaccinated and social distancing but said all health care workers wish COVID was over with too.
“We actually think it could have been over a long time ago had proper public health measures been taken by the public,” he said. “We’re just as tired of this as you are. We’d love to go back to our normal lives. We’d love to not go to work, and every time we go, worry about being exposed to a disease that we could infect our families with. We want it to be over with, too. But the reality is we are still dealing with this, we have record high hospitalizations. … If you combine all the wars that we’ve had since World War II and we still have not had as many deaths in those wars as we have from this war that we’re currently fighting against COVID-19.”
He continued, “This is a unique war that is preventable in the sense that it just takes each one of us to put aside our own needs to put the needs of others ahead of our own.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
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