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Coronavirus Call-in: Utah is well-prepared to battle epidemic, says doctor

FILE -- A sign outside the University of Utah Hospital. (Meghan Thackrey | KSLTV

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s younger and healthier population and its supply of generators and masks will help the state weather the coronavirus pandemic, according to a doctor on the frontlines of the battle.

Dr. Mark Ott, surgeon and medical director of Intermountain Healthcare, and Nate McDonald, of the communications team for the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, joined Jeff Caplan on Friday to answer your questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

Does Utah have enough ventilators?

“Yes, Utah has been well-prepared,” Dr. Ott said. “It [the state of Utah] is historically good preparing for things, and we’re in much better shape than other parts of the country.”

Is ibuprofen dangerous to take if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 coronavirus?

“There’s no hard evidence of that. It’s good for lowering fevers and temperatures. But there’s no risk to taking that,” Ott said.

Are Utah hospitals equipped to deal with a major outbreak?

“Utah is actually the lowest at risk for complications from the COVID-19 virus. We actually have a healthier and younger population than most. We are less likely to have the complications that require hospitalizations,” Ott said.

 Does outdoor temperature affect the virus? 

“Cold does have an impact on transmission because it does bring people together. As the temperature outside warms up, obviously we see the flu and other [illnesses] on the downswing dramatically in our area. The range you can live in is exactly the range the virus survives in, too,” he said.

Can COVID-19 damage the lungs permanently?

“Like any other illness, be it the flu virus or common cold, most of us will recover, do fine and not have any permanent damage,” Dr. Ott said.

Does Utah’s second death due to COVID-19 change the calculus for a statewide “stay at home” order as we reach 480 cases?

“I do know those discussions are happening right now with our local and state officials. They are looking at the numbers. The numbers help inform those decisions. Those discussions are continuing to happen,” said McDonald of the state task force.

Is there a shortage in Utah of masks and gowns, or other gear, especially for first-responders?

“No, and not everyone needs a mask. Unless you’re in a contained space with someone who has the COVID-19 virus, you’re really not at any greater risk than you were two months ago for catching anything. Most people don’t need masks at all. As long as you are washing your hands…as long as you’re staying that six feet distance from people, you don’t need a mask,” Ott said.
“The vast majority of people, even health-care workers, don’t need masks at this point. We don’t want to use them when they’re of no value. We’re trying to save them for situations where they would be of value,” Ott said. ” We have enough masks and PPE [personal protective equipment] to meet the needs of what we think is coming.”

Are pregnant women allowed to have husbands and other people with them in a delivery room?

“Currently, the situation — and I can speak for Intermountain Healthcare facilities — is that you and your husband and, if you happen to have what is known as a doula, would all be allowed into the delivery area as long as none of you has signs and symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, cough or have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Ott said.

If a person ever learns they are immune, do they have to stop washing their hands or socially isolate?

“It’s not just about you,” said Dr. Ott. “You’re looking out for your health but also the health of others. You should always be washing your hands and doing the hygiene things that we are asking people to do because that helps stop the spread of this particular virus…and other illnesses and viruses. That’s a good general policy for everybody,” he said.
“The fact that you’ve had the virus and now have an immune response to it, that’s great for you. But we don’t want you to be carrying things around that can cause other people who don’t have that immunity build up yet and get them sick,” Dr. Ott said.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

State of Utah:

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line 18004567707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

Join KSL either on the radio or on the podcast weekdays to hear your Coronavirus questions answered by the experts. Each day, members of the Utah COVID-19 task force and experts in the health field will be available to speak to your comments and concerns. Leave a voicemail at 801-237-2482 to ask us your virus questions during the pandemic.