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Ahead of the vacation travel buzz, which is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels at Salt Lake City International Airport this month, a Utah virologist on Tuesday expressed concern over the recent increase in the omicron variant. of the coronavirus.

“Omicron is here, and its frequency is increasing rapidly,” said Stephen Goldstein, virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Monday that the omicron variant had overtaken delta as the most dominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States, accounting for about 73.2% of all COVID-19 cases last week.

In an area including Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and North and South Dakota, model projections released on Monday estimated that omicron accounted for about 62% of new coronavirus cases.

The emerging prevalence of Omicron in Utah continues to be studied. According to Utah Department of Health spokesperson Charla Haley, a genome sequencing test performed at Intermountain Healthcare found the absence of a particular protein – believed to be an indicator of the omicron variant – in 30 % of state tests completed in recent weeks. .

Using the same sequencing test, the Utah Public Health Laboratory also found this missing protein in 11 of 29 COVID-positive samples, or 37.9%, Haley said. She added that the lab would have to completely sequence all 11 to be sure the samples contain the omicron variant or not. So far, the state lab has definitively identified seven cases of omicron in the state, Haley said.

Goldstein said early data from South Africa indicates that the rate of protection offered by current COVID-19 vaccines against all symptoms, mild to severe, has fallen to around 35% – from 65% to 70% effectiveness against other variants.

But that protection rate rises to 70% to 75% for people who have received their third booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna versions of the vaccine.

Protection against serious illness – something strong enough to land a person in the hospital – remains robust, around 75% effective, compared to 95% effective as vaccines against the delta variant, Goldstein said. .

Federal COVID-19 Plan

President Joe Biden announced updates to his administration’s COVID-19 winter plan on Tuesday afternoon. As part of the plan, the Associated Press reported, the federal government would buy 500 million rapid tests for the coronavirus and send them free to Americans starting in January. People will be able to use a new website to order the tests, which will then be sent free by US mail, the White House said.

Biden’s plan to distribute 500 million free tests is a good start, Goldstein said. “We just need more of them. We need it in stores and pharmacies, not on empty shelves. “

Goldstein also said he would like the federal government to do something similar “to provide people with high quality, reliable masks they can use.” Many KN95 masks available online are fake, Goldstein noted.

Biden’s plan also called for more support to hospitals and increased vaccination and booster efforts.

New cases in Utah

On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 811 new cases of coronavirus in the past day. The seven-day moving average of new cases stands at 964, the lowest since August 16.

The Department of Health also reported 21 more deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday. A third of them were people aged 45 to 64.

Nine of the deaths reported on Tuesday occurred before December 1 and were only recently confirmed to have been caused by the coronavirus after further testing.

The number of children vaccinated continues to increase: 88,892 children aged 5 to 11 have received at least one dose since becoming eligible. That’s 24.4% of children that age in Utah, according to the Department of Health. And 54,554 of those children were fully immunized, or 15% of this age group.

State intensive care units remain close to capacity. The UDOH reported Tuesday that 93.2% of all intensive care beds in Utah and 96.3% of intensive care beds in major medical centers in the state are occupied. (Hospitals consider anything above 85% to be functional.) Of all critical care patients, 37.9% are treated for COVID-19.

Vaccine doses administered during the last day / total doses administered • 14,003 / 4,448,663.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,880,852 – 57.6% of the total population of Utah. It is an increase of 2,660 in the last day.

Cases reported in the last day • 811.

Cases among school-aged children • Kindergarten to grade 12 children accounted for 93 of the new cases announced on Monday, or 11.5% of the total. There have been 45 reported cases in children aged 5 to 10 years; 22 cases in children 11-13; and 26 cases in children aged 14-18.

Tests reported in the last day • 7 393 people were tested for the first time. A total of 14,694 people have been tested.

Deaths reported in the last day • 21.

There have been five deaths in Utah County – two men and a woman aged 45 to 64, and a man and woman aged 65 to 84.

Salt Lake County has reported three deaths – a man and woman aged 45 to 65 and a woman aged 85 or older. There have also been three deaths in Washington County – one man and two women aged 65 to 84. And there have been three deaths in Weber County – a man and woman aged 65 to 84 and a woman aged 85 or older.

Davis County has reported two deaths – both men aged 65 to 84. There have also been two deaths in Box Elder County – a man and a woman aged 45 to 64. And there have been two deaths in Tooele County – two women aged 65 to 84.

Cache County has reported the death of a woman aged 65 to 84.

Hospitalizations reported during the last day • 444. This is 12 less than what was reported on Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 182 are in intensive care, 10 fewer than reported on Monday.

Percentage of positive tests • According to the original state method, the rate is 11% over the last day. This is below the seven-day average of 11.9%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeat testing of the same individual. Monday’s rate was 5.5%, below the seven-day average of 8.2%.

[Read more: Utah is changing how it measures the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Here’s what that means.]

Risk ratios • During the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns have been 15.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those vaccinated, according to an analysis from the Utah Department of Health. The unvaccinated were also 9.7 times more likely to be hospitalized and 3.7 times more likely more likely to test positive for coronavirus.

Totals to date • 621,008 case; 3,738 deaths; 27,093 hospitalizations; 4,153,440 people tested.


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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion