Summit County Rises to State’s COVID Index Level
Summit County has moved to an increased level of COVID transmissibility, state officials said Thursday, the first hitch in the local pandemic recovery after months of progress that includes the state’s best vaccination rate.
The county has moved up to “moderate” on a state measure of COVID-19 transmissibility, amid three categories on the transmission index.
The designation does not come with any public health restrictions, such as reducing the capacity of bars and restaurants or limiting gatherings.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said there are about four new cases of COVID-19 in the county every day.
“I think the practical message for us is that we’re still doing pretty well because the state is experiencing a real, significant increase,” Bullough said.
While the number of cases is generally good in the county, Bullough said, he is concerned about the Delta variant, a more transmissible mutant of the virus that causes COVID-19 and makes vaccines less effective. He said officials estimate more than 80% of the state’s cases at this point are caused by the variant.
“It’s definitely driving the push statewide,” he said.
He said the majority of cases in Summit County involve unvaccinated children and some of them get seriously ill.
There are no vaccines approved for use in children under 12 years of age.
“I am very concerned about the next school year,” he said.
Bullough said health officials are meeting with area school district superintendents to formulate a plan for the year.
The state transmission index is based on three parameters: how many cases are present in a county; the percentage of COVID tests that are positive in that county; and the remaining capacity of intensive care units in state hospitals.
The county had been in the low category since May 27. It went from high to moderate on March 18, a change that ended distancing and capacity restrictions in bars and restaurants.
However, no such restriction accompanies the recent return to moderate.
“Once the public health orders expired, the transmission index essentially became an advisory only tool,” said Tom Hudachko, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health.
The most important factor behind the rebranding is the statewide use of hospital intensive care units. According to the Transmission Index, intensive care units statewide are 77% full and COVID-19 intensive care unit utilization is 17.3%. Both are referred to as “high” levels.
If a county has one of the other two measures above the low category, then the county is moved to that designation.
As of Friday, 12 counties were at high transmission, 10 at moderate and seven at low, according to the Utah Department of Health.
In 11 of the 12 counties in the high designation, according to the department, less than 60% of the adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Summit County, 85% of people eligible for the vaccine have received at least one injection, while 76% are fully vaccinated.
The county’s 14-day case rate per 100,000 population is 109.15, which is in the moderate category. His ratio of positive COVID tests for the disease is 4.5%, which puts him in the low category.
“Our numbers still look pretty good, and if the statewide critical care numbers hadn’t changed, hadn’t increased, we would still be at the bottom,” Bullough said.
Although he said the COVID situation locally is generally good, Bullough did not say the change in designation did not reflect the situation.
“I think we have to take it seriously, in part because we are not isolated,” he said. “We have argued from the start that this is more of a regional response. That is why we must take into account the regional and systemic capacity of intensive care. We are part of it. … We are part of the system and we depend on it.