It’s safe to say that the arrival of the Delta variant of COVID-19 hasn’t changed the mindset or behavior of most Sanpete County residents.
The face masks have come off, and everyone in the valley has been attending school, fairs, festivals, concerts, ball games and family reunions.
But since July 1—about the time the Delta mutation hit—there have been 3,920 COVID cases and 27 COVID deaths in Sanpete County, according to Angie Knaphus, public information officer for the Central Utah Public Health Department.
This compares to 5,641 total cases and 46 deaths in Sanpete since COVID tracing began in April of 2020.
That means there have been well over twice as many cases of COVID in the last four and half months of summer and fall than in the previous 14 months before July 1.
The transmission rate in Sanpete is regarded as very high, but stable, according to the Utah Department of Health. On Nov. 18, there were 129 active COVID cases in the county.
Throughout the entire pandemic, in the six-county Central Utah Public Health district, there have been 114 deaths from COVID while 485 people have been hospitalized.
The virus hasn’t gone away by any stretch, but statewide, case numbers are trending down, even with the highly contagious Delta variant in the wind. “It’s definitely not gone,” Khaphus said. “But we are doing better for sure.”
Confirmed cases in local schools are on the decrease. In mid-September, schools in the North and South Sanpete School Districts combined reported 42 confirmed COVID cases. As of Nov. 18, the same schools reported 17 cases.
“Early on, we had to cancel some football games and other events,” said Superintendent Ralph Squire of the South Sanpete School District. “But since then, cases have leveled out. I don’t want to jinx myself, but five of our schools don’t even have a case in them right now.”
As of Nov. 18, there were eight confirmed COVID cases in the seven schools the South Sanpete School District. Ephraim Elementary appears to be a trouble spot, as it reported six of those cases.
“We haven’t have a seen a big spike, and things are going well and we hope they continue to go well,” he said. “And I know everybody doesn’t see it the same way regarding vaccines, but we’re not forcing anything on anyone.”
Likewise, North Sanpete School District Superintendent Nan Ault said her district works closely with the health department to make recommendations on mitigating COVID, but choices on wearing masks and getting vaccinated are personal, she said.
Ault started off the year worrying about the new Delta variant, but cases have remained pretty low and none of North Sanpete’s schools have come close to meeting a threshold that would have required “test-to-stay” protocols.
As of last week, the district only had nine confirmed COVID cases for eight schools.
The district has been disrupted by quarantines and students staying home due to a variety of illnesses, including COVID, in their families, Ault said.
She added that some families conduct self-tests, and the confirmed COVID cases are “just a glimpse” of how much the virus might actually be circulating through the community.
There are other positive developments on the horizon that might restrain COVID, including the Delta variant. The FDA has authorized vaccines for children ages 5-18 in schools and booster shots for adults.
Many people in Sanpete are registering for weekly vaccination clinics at schools, Khaphus said. On Wednesday, Nov. 17, 140 students registered to get a vaccination shot at the Manti Elementary School.
The North Sanpete School District has conducted several vaccination clinics, including one recently for 5-11 year olds, Ault said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Sanpete Valley Hospital in Mt. Pleasant was sending all COVID-19 to the Wasatch Front, according to a statement from Dr. Robert Armstrong, the hospital medical director. But they are treating COVID patients now.
“With further knowledge and information, we have been able to have our staff safely take care of COVID-19 patients,” Armstrong said. “Prior to the larger hospitals filling up beyond capacity, we could transfer patients. The Sanpete Hospital does not have an assigned COVID floor and or unit because of our size and capacity. With the filling up of the larger hospitals, we have stepped up and worked through keeping patients that are not requiring a higher acuity, and doing a great job of it.”