Just when everything seemed to be returning to normal, a new strain of COVID-19 called omicron has killed the possibility of moving beyond this virus in 2022.
Omicron has spread throughout Utah at a furious pace this January, and the variant has spilled into the Sanpete Valley as well, according to Nathan Selin, director of the Central Utah Public Health Department.
The data across the state shows that omicron has now become the dominant variant, Selin said.
The Utah Department of Health reported more than 12,200 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, Jan. 13. This was a Utah record for confirmed cases in one day.
Then on Friday, Utah health officials reported 11,128 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths. The rolling, seven-day average for new cases reached a new high of 9,827 per day, and the average rate of tests resulting as positive was 37.2 percent.
The omicron cases popping up in central Utah are a few days behind the surge of cases along the Wasatch Front, Selin said.
“Our cases have rapidly increased over the last four or five days,” he said. The data on omicron shows that cases are traditionally less severe and the virus will typically burn through a community quicker than other strains, he said.
With that in mind, Selin is hopeful omicron will peak this winter and subside.
The biggest problem with the surge of cases right now, however, is the possibility of swamping local hospitals with serious COVID cases, Selin said.
Local hospitals send a lot of their cases to northern Utah, he said, and as intensive care units fill up along the Wasatch Front, regional hospitals won’t have a place to send their seriously ill patients, he said.
The numbers bear him out.
At the end of 2021, there were 5,975 COVID cases in Sanpete County and 49 deaths. As of Friday, Jan. 14, Sanpete County reported 6,470 confirmed COVID cases and 51 deaths. There were also 485 hospitalizations in the Central Utah Health District, which is comprised of Juab, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier and Wayne Counties.
Sanpete County alone was seeing an increase of about 40 cases per day last week, said Angie Knaphus, spokesperson for the district. That is a much higher rate than last year, she said.
Knaphus recommends that anyone who thinks they have been exposed to the virus to be tested and wear a mask for 10 days. It is important to be tested so you can protect the rest of your family if you are positive, she said.
Selin confirmed the approach to fighting COVID is still the same: “We recommend the vaccination, but our biggest message is if you are sick, stay home, get tested if you can, but make sure you are not out in public spreading it further.”
Local schools have also seen an uptick in COVID cases. The North Sanpete School District reported there are 25 cases total in their eight schools. The South Sanpete School District reported there are 24 total cases in their seven schools. This is double the number of cases at the end of 2021.
Ralph Squire, superintendent of South Sanpete School District, has been working from home because he has been feeling under the weather and he wants to protect others.
He said there has been an uptick in COVID cases in his district, but the numbers haven’t reached the threshold to require remote learning. This is unlike several school districts along the Wasatch Front, which are moving to online learning for the week after Martin Luther King Day.
“We are doing everything we can to keep the kids safe and keep the schools open and follow the protocols that have been provided to us,” he said.
Snow College has also reported at least nine positive cases of COVID among its students on campus so far this year, said Marci Larsen, assistant to the president. The college is seeing an uptick in infections similar to the rest of the state, she said.
Snow’s motto for this semester is: “This is our shot at a normal year, get the booster.” In addition, the school is offering testing at both the Ephraim and Richfield campuses.
The school has asked students and staff to get a COVID test before returning to in-person learning and wear a mask if they feel comfortable doing so, Larsen said.
At the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison, four out of 1,677 inmates were sick with COVID as of Jan. 6, according to a news report.
For further information, the Utah State Department of Health has a great deal of COVID-related information on its website, coronavirus.utah.gov.