MURRAY — If coronavirus variants now spreading throughout the United States become dominant strains, health experts fear the potential for a springtime surge.
That’s why the speed of the vaccine campaign and public health protective measures are so important.
On Jan. 15, the Utah Department of Health confirmed the first case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in Utah, referred to as the “U.K. variant,” through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples.
According to Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease doctor at Intermountain Healthcare, Utahns need to keep up the personal protective measures until the vaccine makes an impact.
“From an epidemiology standpoint, we are moving in the right direction, and we need to make sure that we keep doing what we’re doing,” said Stenehjem.
While Utah’s critical COVID-19 numbers are currently headed in the right direction, Stenehjem said the variants could change that.
“It’s definitely a concern of ours to be really monitoring this current situation with the viral variants,” he said. “It just emphasizes the fact that we need to get vaccines out because it looks like the vaccines are protective against these variants.”
It’s a race to get the vaccines out faster than the variants can spread.
We are on a good track right now, as long as people continue to mask up, limit their contacts and don’t gather in large groups.
–Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, infectious disease doctor at Intermountain Healthcare
An updated COVID-19 forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, that includes the highly transmissible variants, shows the potential for an additional 25,000 deaths over the next three months. Researchers project a total of 160,000 more deaths before May 1.
The U.K. strain has now been detected in 33 states, including Utah.
“If it was a predominant mode of infection here in Utah, I think we would know about it at this point because of the amount that they are sequencing,” said Stenehjem.
While state health officials continue to track the strains, Stenehjem said we need to keep protecting ourselves.
“We are on a good track right now, as long as people continue to mask up, limit their contacts and don’t gather in large groups,” he said.
If Utah can get vaccines out quickly, he said, and get more of our communities protected, then we can worry less about the variant strains.