Daily COVID-update: March 24, 2020

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DATA: As of Tuesday, March 24, Utah has 298 cases of COVID-19, which is up 41 new cases from the previous day. (Utah County has 13 positive cases). Total testing in the state is 5,823 so far. Testing capacities have increased to 2,600 per day, with the expectation that even more testing will be available in the coming days and weeks. With expanded testing comes expanded criteria for those who can be tested. The relaxed guidelines now say if anyone has a fever, cough or shortness of breath, they can get evaluated and possibly tested for COVID-19. Although an increase in positive tests is not good news, it IS excellent news that the rate of increase is lower than in previous days. One thing to keep in mind: There is a data lag in some of these numbers being reported based on delays in getting results, etc. Some medical providers choose to hire out-of-state labs, which can take 3-7 days for results to come back, said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist who has been impressivel
y articulate and patient in her daily press briefings.
 
GOVERNOR IS GOVERNING: Governor Gary Herbert released a 16-page plan today titled “Utah Leads Together,” which outlines strong and specific ideas for a health and economic recovery for our state. He gathered bright minds from around Utah to devise a thorough approach that addresses the Urgent Phase, the Stabilization Phase, and the Recovery Phase. Also, read more at this link. It’s a lot of info to take in, but the document is well-designed and written succinctly but with a high level of information. https://coronavirus.utah.gov/business/
 
SOCIAL DISTANCING IS ALL WE’VE GOT: Dr. Dunn reminded us that there is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, and our only weapon to fight against it is prevention. Social distancing — and isolation for those who are sick — is our approach. “It’s our antidote out of this,” Dr. Dunn says.
 
NO SHELTER IN PLACE. Dr. Dunn said that 11 states have implemented a “shelter in place” plan, which generally means that everyone stays at home for two weeks. “We don’t know how effective a ‘shelter in place’ plan is in terms of breaking the cycle of COVID-19,” Dr. Dunn said. “There is evidence from past epidemics that shows that on Day 16, for example, when the ’shelter in place’ is lifted there is an increase in cases. We need to be aware of what we can tolerate as a society for a long period of time.”
 
EARTHQUAKE WAS IDEAL DRESS REHEARSAL: Dr. Dunn said that on the day of the earthquake, responders were working on both fronts: COVID-19 and Magna 5.7. Gratefully, the damage was minimal and there was no loss of life from the earthquake, but it did give the state a dry-run of how to take care of two major problems at once. “We thought through how we would separate those who are symptomatic vs. those who are well,” Dr. Dunn said. “Plans are in place in the event of another natural disaster happening during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
 
ELECTIVE IS NOT ELECTIVE ANYMORE. Up until today, the state was asking for medical providers to voluntarily stop performing elective surgeries. Today, Governor Herbert issued an order to prohibit non-essential services that use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). “This will preserve our supplies for patients of COVID-19 as well as others who are critically ill,” Dr. Dunn said in support of Gov. Herbert.
 
GOOD NEWS MINUTE FOR UTAH: In Utah, 5 percent of those tested come back positive. In Colorado, they are seeing “upwards of 12 to 18 percent positive results,” Dr. Dunn says.
 
SAVE PARK CITY: Summit County has the second highest number of cases in the state at 82. “Summit County is getting extra help from the state and the CDC to control the cluster happening there right now,” Dr. Dunn says.
 
RECOVERY IS HIGH: Once someone is 14 days out of their infection, they are considered to be recovered. Every COVID-19 patient in Utah who has reached 14 days has recovered, except for the one unfortunate death in the state that happened over the weekend in Davis County (a man over 60 who served as a Bountiful Temple worker).
 
WILL WE BE IMMUNE AFTER WE GET IT?: “With most viruses, we build up an immunity once we’ve been infected because we have antibodies in our immune system that prevent us from getting it again,” Dr. Dunn says. “We are still learning about this disease. We see some evidence there is immunity built up and we are expecting that, but we still recommend social distancing for those who have had COVID-19 and recovered.”
 
LAUNDRY PRECAUTIONS: At the Utah Department of Health press conference, Dr. Dunn was asked whether people should launder their clothes when they return home from being in public. She said there was no specific guidance such as that for people who are asymptomatic and taking the recommended precautions.
 
COMMUNITY ACTION SERVICES: One of Provo’s hidden gems is Community Action Services and Food Bank, which regularly services those in poverty for an extended period of time. However, they are also ready to help those experiencing shortages for perhaps the first time in light of coronavirus-related job loss. “We are here and prepared to serve with emergency food, shelter and rent assistance,” says executive director Karen McCandless. Just another example of Utah being prepared to help each other. No shame in needing help. We’re all in this together.
 
Like Governor Herbert wrote today, “Utah Leads Together.” And from my perspective, the state is walking the walk and leading the talk around the nation. While some parts of the United States have experienced tension between elected officials and health experts, it’s clear our Utah thinkers are all sitting at the same table and working together as decisions are made.
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