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Intermountain Healthcare prepping for possible spike in COVID-19 cases after the holidays
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Intermountain prepping for possible spike in COVID-19 cases after the holidays

(Amy Wilcox, RN, administers a COVID-19 test at a testing site at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Credit, Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, December 11, 2020.)

MURRAY – Could another spike in COVID-19 cases be on the way?  Doctors with Intermountain Healthcare say it’s a real possibility because of Christmas and New Year’s get-togethers.

Health officials in Utah say the state dodged a bullet when it comes to COVID-19 after Thanksgiving.  Utah didn’t have a significant spike in cases or hospitalizations like analysts were expecting.  Doctors would like to see the same lack of spike after Christmas and New Year’s Day, however, they can’t be certain it will happen.

“Honestly, we’re not outside of that holiday gathering period because we have New Year’s coming up,” says Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Todd Vento.  “Our main concern with holiday exposure is the fact that Christmas will be different than Thanksgiving because it’s an extended period of exposure.”

The Utah Department of Health reports the state had fewer than 800 new cases reported Monday, which is significantly less than what we have seen in recent weeks.  However, Vento says those numbers don’t paint a complete picture since the number of people getting tested also dropped over the holiday.  Plus, he says Utah’s rolling seven-day average of positive cases sits over 24 percent, which proves there is still a lot of viral spread from person-to-person.

Vento says, “That’s actually in the top ten in the country in terms of states and the percent of positivity.”

If people have already celebrated Christmas with people living outside of their home, Vento recommends they get into a pseudo-quarantine mindset, now.  He says they should take every step they can to isolate themselves from others, and they should get tested five to seven days after Christmas.

More strains of COVID-19

Doctors have another reason to be concerned about the spread of the disease.  Vento says a mutated strain of COVID-19 was identified in the UK, and roughly half of all cases there are infected from that second strain.  Vento says they expect that to become the dominant strain in that country.

“We have not found or identified, in the United States, yet,” Vento says.  “I would say we should know, probably, this week if we have confirmed that because it has been in many countries, already,” Vento says.

Plus, in South Africa, the virus has developed a different mutation which makes it easier for it to spread.

Vento says, “It actually binds to the receptors on human cells more tightly and it needs less virus to get into the body.  Therefore, it’s more easily transmitted.

Mutation is not uncommon for viruses.  Vento says that’s how viruses are able to survive for as long as they do.  However, he also says there are reasons to be optimistic about treating those new strains.  Doctors have taken antibodies of patients who received the vaccine, and those antibodies seem to be effective against the mutated viruses.

He says, “That’s low numbers, but, nonetheless, that was reassuring.”

Vento says once a platform for a vaccine is made, it’s much easier for researchers to change the vaccine to treat mutated strains.


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