Covid-19 Updates

Every month, there is information in the Herald about the schedule of church activities as impacted by COVID and a regular column from Dr. Allyn Nakashima providing COVID information updates and recommendations. Here, you can find the Herald article and information about where you can receive free COVID-19 testing.

Herald Article – January 2022

Living with COVID-19: the Omicron variant

As with all viruses, mutations are constantly occurring with the SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.  The vast majority of these mutations do not affect the virus’s abilities to infect people or change the disease characteristics.  However, occasionally mutations that produce significant changes that improve transmissibility.  The Delta variant and the Omicron variant are two viruses with increased transmissibility characteristics.  The Omicron variant is particularly transmissible and has already replaced the Delta variant as the primary cause of new infections.  Because of its increased transmissibility characteristics, many people will acquire the Omicron variant during the holidays, despite full vaccination and booster status.  However, this variant may produce less severe disease.  Fully vaccinated persons who have also received boosters, appear to have mild or asymptomatic illness when infected with the Omicron variant.  Over 80% of cases requiring hospitalization are among unvaccinated persons. 

A new oral antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 was approved by the FDA in the past week.  Paxlovid is a combination drug consisting of two antiviral agents: nirmatrelvir and ritonavir.  It should become widely available in about a month.  If taken soon after infection, this drug may be especially useful to mitigate symptoms in elderly and immunocompromised persons.  Check with your primary care provider about this drug.

Due to the increases in COVID-19 symptoms during the holidays, testing supplies are in short supply and many testing sites are overtaxed. 

During the holidays, it is important to avoid family gatherings and other group situations if anyone has flu or cold symptoms.  To prevent Omicron, avoid group gatherings if everyone is not masked.  Many veniues, such, as, theater, concerts or movies, are safer if the venue requires proof of vaccination.

Herald Article – December 2021

Living with COVID-19: Practical tips for managing a COVID scare

In the last installment, we discussed how important it is for all of us to understand that COVID will be with us for the foreseeable future, and each of us will have to make decisions on what course of action to take depending on factors. The new omicron variant in South Africa appears to have already made to the United States. Because there genetic make up of this virus is quite different from the viruses used to generate the COVID vaccines, the current vaccines may not be effective. The vaccine manufacturers will be scrambling to get a new vaccine that will be effective in as short a time as possible. Thus the future situation will be similar to seasonal influenza, and every year we will have to get one or boosters that target the latest circulating variants of COVID.  In this article, I want to share a personal event that illustrates how we will need to react to COVID in the future.

My daughter arrived on Monday before Thanksgiving after working in Las Vegas at a convention where she sold merchandise.  Her observation was that the event was not that safe because it was in Nevada where many people don’t wear masks and are not vaccinated.  On Tuesday evening (within 48 hours after she arrived), I developed a sore throat and runny nose, but no fever or other COVID symptoms. In other times, I would have assumed this was a typical cold and not done much about it. The incubation period for COVID is usually 3-5 days at a minimum so I doubted Halley exposed me. Because of the convention, though, Halley was planning to get tested in the next few days after she arrived. I had been to a play, gone shopping and eaten with friends at restaurants in the prior week. Another factor was that we are here in Utah with moderately high transmission rates (about 300-500 cases per day in Salt Lake City) and low vaccination rates (about 60% fully vaccinated). I was also planning to go on a trip leaving the Monday after Thanksgiving. Finally, Clarence, Halley’s husband was set to arrive Wednesday evening, and we didn’t want him to come if either of us had COVID. All these considerations made me decide that both of us should get a COVID test.

So where and what test should we get? There are many places and different types of tests that are useful for different purposes. One of the simplest ways to get tested is at one of the public health testing sites. To pre-register, look under the ‘COVID-19 Mitigation Information’ tab on the JCC website and click on the location most convenient for you. I used the Utah Department of Health’s drive-thru testing site located at 288 N 1460 W, Salt Lake City, UT 84116. This site allows for people who are pre-registered as well as walk-ins. The site open from 7 am to 7 pm most days and the wait was less than 15 minutes. The test being used at this site is the Abbott BINAX rapid antigen test and is provided to the patient free of charge.  The results are sent to the patient within 1 hour by mobile text or email.  This test is about 70% sensitive for detecting COVID-19, and there are very few false positives. Since I was symptomatic, the likelihood of a false negative is low so I felt this test was good enough for my purpose.  PCR and NAAT tests are more sensitive (>90%) and are available at some sites and at the Utah Public Health Laboratory, but these tests usually require 1-3 day turnaround time for results.  These tests have very few false negatives and are good for screening asymptomatic persons. Rapid PCR tests are available in Emergency Rooms for diagnostic purposes.  These tend to be more costly unless covered by insurance as part of the initial ER work up. If you have questions about whether you need to get tested and what test you should get, contact your primary care provider. Fortunately, both Halley and I tested negative and I recovered quickly from my cold symptoms.

Situations like the one presented here are going to become increasingly common. So it is important to know where to get tested and under what circumstances one should get tested.   Contact your primary care provider or a public health expert for questions.

 

Update from the Utah Department of Health (January 19, 2022)

COVID Updates:

– Check coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts/ for updated cases, hospitalizations, deaths and other COVID data.

Order free home test kits from the federal government, shipped through USPS (4 per household). Request tests here: https://www.covidtests.gov/. Additionally, private health insurers are now required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for people they cover. Read more here.

Testing guidance from the Governor’s office: “Most people do not need a test during this period of high infection and scarce supplies. If you have symptoms you should assume you have COVID-19 and stay at home (isolate) for 5 days. If after five days, no fever, and feeling better, you may return to society but wear a mask for an additional five days.

It’s still important for some people to get tested, especially:

  • If you have an underlying condition or are high-risk for severe disease and may qualify for treatment.

  • If you are visiting a vulnerable individual.

  • If you work in a health care or congregate living setting.

  • If you are traveling and require a negative test.”

(Note that in order to qualify for AUCH discretionary funding, an individual must have a positive COVID test in the official statewide system. Individuals who need to access these funds would be advised to get tested at an official site.)

– Omicron is beginning to overwhelm hospitals in many places. According to the NIHCM foundation, 24% of hospitals in the US have staffing shortages and 17,000 COVID-positive Americans are being admitted to hospitals every day. This results in hospitals having to cancel or postpone elective surgeries and difficulties finding beds in ICUs for even non-COVID patients. Read more here.

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– Attached is this week’s response report in English and Spanish, including case rates in children, vaccination rates, and hospital capacity throughout the state. You can find more information at https://coronavirus.utah.gov/education

– Attached is the weekly report for COVID data by race/ethnicity per Local Health District. This report breaks down cases, hospitalizations, and vaccinations by race/ethnicity across the state. Find this report under the “Vaccines” tab on the Case Counts page.

The Supreme Court ruled to block the federal vaccine-or-test mandate of large employers. However, mandates for healthcare workers will continue to move forward.

– Keeping kids safe from Omicron article: Get everyone over 5 vaccinated and those over 12 boosted, wear a protective mask at school. COVID cases and hospitalizations in children have been increasing across the country. 

Testing, Vaccines, and MAb:

– Find a testing site: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations/

– Find a vaccine site: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution/

  • A schedule of this week’s pop-up vaccine clinics in Salt Lake County; no appointments required. (Spanish)

– Info on accessing Monoclonal Antibody Treatment for COVID: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/noveltherapeutics/

  • Someone may benefit if they have high risk for severe illness and being hospitalized from COVID-19, you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, and it has been 7 days or less since your symptoms first started.

  • Go to the website and fill out the Risk Score Calculator to see if eligible

Events and Opportunities:

– Special and Vulnerable Populations COVID-19 Forum: “Will address how COVID-19 has impacted health centers across the country and the special populations they serve. The Forum will identify, share, and promote promising practices, while highlighting and addressing challenges.” On Jan 28, 2022 at 12 PM, register here.

– What are COVID-19 Booster Shots and Do I Need One? Virtual training from Made to Save. Thursday, January 20 from 11-12. Register here.

It’s not Weak to Speak events, January 27 at the Cache County Events Center. Flyers attached:

  • Session for professionals to learn to message about suicide from 12 PM to 1 PM, RSVP here.
  • Session for anyone to learn to communicate about suicide in ways that provide hope and healing from 6 PM to 7 PM.

Things to Share:

A graphic from the Public Health Communications Collaborative outlines how masks offer different levels of protection.

image.pngMore info about choosing the best mask from the University of Utah in English and Spanish, as well as the CDC’s latest recommendations for masking.

– COVID booster messaging and outreach toolkit

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Feel free to reach out with info you have to share with the rest of the group. I appreciate all the work you do in your communities, and please let me know what other updates I can provide to help. Stay safe!


Annika Machado, RN (She/Her/Hers)
COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Coordinator
Office of Health Disparities 
Utah Department of Health
(385) 266-5712