CDC’s new recommendations on masks and COVID-19 metrics paint very different picture of viral spread in Utah

Feb 25, 2022, 6:59 PM | Updated: 7:00 pm

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(Stock photo)

(Stock photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal health officials are relaxing their recommendations on masks across most of the country.  The CDC is changing its focus when it comes to COVID-19, drastically changing how viral spread maps look across the country.

In the past, the CDC tracked two things to determine the risk of COVID-19 spreading. It tracked specifically the number of new positive cases and the percentage of positive cases over the previous week.  If you use those same metrics, it would appear Utah is still, mostly, considered as having a high risk of transmission.

(UDOH COVID-19 transmission map on their official coronavirus website, taken on February 25, 2022. It shows most of the state is still considered as “high transmission,” but it was created using the CDC’s older guidance. Health officials say they’ll make changes, soon)

COVID-19 impact on hospitals

However, Utah State Epidemiologist Leisha Nolen says the CDC is now looking at how COVID-19 cases are impacting hospitals.

Nolen said, “Are the hospitals seeing huge amounts of patients come in?  Are the hospitals able to care for the patients that come in?  Are we seeing a lot of people get severe illness?”

Focusing on those questions, the CDC says most of the state is considered as having either low or medium levels.  Only two counties, Tooele and San Juan, are in the “high range.”  State health officials say they’ll follow the CDC’s new system and make the appropriate changes in the next few weeks.

(Screen shot taken from the CDC’s COVID-19 by county map, also taken February 25, 2022, with counties in green considered as having low levels, while counties in yellow are considered as medium. This map was made using their new metrics.)

Nolen says things have drastically improved in Utah’s hospital system.  The number of new cases and hospitalizations have dropped significantly over the past few weeks.

“About two days ago, our hospitals finally hit that 75 percent full [mark] which is really what we’ve been hoping for a while,” Nolen said.

Recommendations on masks aren’t changing in certain places

However, the CDC isn’t suggesting people should stop wearing masks, completely.  Nolen says the recommendations on masks for hospitals isn’t changing, at all.  Plus, school students are still encouraged to wear masks if they live in a high-risk area.

Nolen agrees that people are far more protected from COVID-19 than in the past couple of years.

She said, “Now, we know a lot of the population is no longer at risk of those really severe outcomes.  That’s because their body has learned how to fight it off. Either because they got a vaccine or because they’ve actually already had it once.”

According to Nolen, masks were an extremely effective tool is slowing the spread during the beginning of the pandemic.  However, even if people don’t need to wear them as often now, that’s not to say we won’t need to put them back on in the future.

“There could be a new variant that’s going to change. And we’re going to need to go back up in our protection,” she said.

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