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Safety precautions for COVID-19 appear to be slowing the spread of other viruses

WASATCH FRONT – Are the safety precautions we’re taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 helping to slow other viruses as well?  At first glance, the answer appears to be yes.

Fewer instances of other viruses 

The Salt Lake County Health Department has noticed a decrease in the number of respiratory diseases, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). But the data isn’t exactly crystal clear on why those numbers are down. 

For instance, RSV is something health officials describe as “newly reportable,” which means they don’t have enough data to see historical trends of the disease. 

They also noticed a drop in influenza-like diseases at the end of the flu season. However, County Epidemiology Bureau Manager Ilene Risk says that decrease could be due to the fact that the flu season was ending. Although, she believes masks were a large factor behind the drop. 

“There’s so much evidence around facial coverings and prevention.  It stands to reason it’s going to prevent any contagious respiratory illness,” explained Risk. 

It’s not just the use of masks that could be behind the downward trend. Risk noted social distancing and improved handwashing will help prevent the spread of all kinds of viruses when flu season comes back.

“That’s an essential prevention method for both COVID-19 and influenza, in addition to the masks,” she said.

Additionally, reports of foodborne illnesses have fallen significantly since the pandemic started.  Salt Lake County Health Department Spokesman Nicholas Rupp says it might be partly due to fewer people eating at restaurants.

“We have a lot of foodborne illness that happens at home, but people don’t tend to report that or go to the doctor about it,” said Rupp. “When they think they get it from a restaurant, they tend to report it to us and we can track it.”

Utah County gets more help for contact tracing

While preventing the spread of COVID-19 is an important part of keeping people healthy, officials in Utah County say tracking its spread is also crucial. 

However, contact tracing has become a serious burden on their workers.  Department Spokesperson Aislynn Tolman-Hill says contact tracing is far more than just looking at cell phone data to see who may have been in contact with an infected person.

“We really need to have that one-on-one conversation with them and really talk through what their symptoms are and when their symptoms started,” said Tolman Hill. 

Tolman-Hill says epidemiologists have been so busy with contact tracing, they’ve had to bring in employees from other departments just to lighten the workload.  But thanks to money from the CARES Act, they’re able to bring in another 18 to 20 employees.

“It’s the right time, right as school is starting, to get this additional capacity on board,” she said.

 

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