1. COVID-19 can cause severe illness in everyone, not just in the elderly
While we have seen a disproportionate number of severe cases and mortality in the elderly, many younger individuals without underlying health issues have contracted COVID-19 with severe symptoms and have required hospitalization. People who are overweight and younger people with underlying medical conditions appear to be at exceptionally high risk. Some individuals with genetic abnormalities of their immune system, who are otherwise healthy, may experience life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms.
We don’t fully understand the long-term effects for those who recover from COVID-19, but an estimated 10% of even mild cases can have long-term consequences from this infection.
While Utah’s mortality rates are better than many other states, some of that is likely attributable to our low rate of smokers in the State and low case counts earlier in the pandemic.
2. COVID-19 is at high-levels in Utah and spreading rapidly
The positivity rate for those tested community members exceeds 20%, an indicator there are many undetected positive cases.
Approximately eight percent of patients screened without symptoms are also positive for COVID-19, indicating the severity of spread.
Utah is in the top 10 states for the number of COVID-19 cases per capita.
Epidemiologists indicate that transmission occurs mainly in extended family and social gatherings where masking and social distancing are not happening.
Epidemiologists anticipate that with continued family gatherings and visitation of high-density businesses or events where people congregate, the transmission will continue to accelerate.
3. Our hospitals have exceeded standard capacity and are operating under contingency plans
Currently, Intermountain’s ICUs are at 90+% capacity. Generally, anything above 85% is considered full. Other hospitals in the State are approaching similar levels.
The State dashboard has counted all licensed beds; the capacity numbers look lower than they are. We are working with the State to count the number of “staffed beds” that are full.
The real burden on the healthcare system is not just measured in available ventilators or staffed beds; when one disease dominates our volumes, our ability to provide quality care for the many other patients with a spectrum of other conditions is constrained.
As noted, staffing is one of our most significant constraints right now. Intermountain has identified and hired nearly 200 additional nurses from out of state to support our hospitals during the next few months.
To increase bed capacity, we have:
Opened a unit at TOSH for non-COVID-19 patients.
Expanded our ICU capacity at LDS Hospital.
Opened an overflow ICU at Dixie Regional.
Converted our Pediatric unit at Riverton to an adult unit.
Instituted a load-leveling process where we are transferring patients from our referral hospitals to hospitals with greater capacity.
Explored additional options at Alta View and several other hospitals.
Hospitalization trends tend to lag case number trends by 7-14 days. For example, Intermountain Healthcare experienced a spike in cases related to Memorial Day. That translated to a sharp increase in hospitalizations about one to two weeks later. Right now, we see a Halloween-related spike in hospitalizations.
4. We need to follow the practices to slow the spread of the virus
We all must continue to follow public health guidelines to use face coverings, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings of people who are not in your immediate household, frequently wash our hands, and sanitize high-touch surfaces.