An Intermountain Healthcare worker at Utah Valley Hospital unboxes the first round of the Pfizer Inc. COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.

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The first shipments of COVID-19 vaccinations have been delivered to Utah Valley Hospital and the LDS Hospital, and Logan Regional Hospital will be following suit soon — perhaps even by Thursday.

“We’re working on a distribution plan right now,” said Sarah Fitzgerald with Logan Regional. “We could be getting it to our caregivers as early as Saturday or even next Monday, just depending on when the vaccine actually gets here, and so that’s awesome news for us. We’re super, super excited about that.”

The news was described as “a light at the end of the tunnel” and “the beginning of the end” by Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, in a press conference on Monday.

“All of our lives have been touched by this virus; some certainly more than others, but all lives have been impacted,” Stenehjem said. “Social circles have been disrupted, schools have been canceled, jobs have been lost, loved ones have become sick or have died, and the mental health struggles of getting through this pandemic that has lasted over nine months cannot be overstated. However today, we come to you with optimism and with hope.”

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

Stenehjem said that, similar to hospitals throughout the state, Intermountain’s Intensive Care Units are “very, very full,” and Logan is not immune to that.

“We’ve had to postpone a couple of our inpatient surgeries due to medical and surgical, which are our inpatient floors, being at 96% capacity,” Fitzgerald said. “We are almost at max capacity, so things are getting really tight. This vaccination could not have come at a better time.”

December has historically been a busy month for procedures because most individuals have met or are close to meeting their insurance deductibles and want to squeeze in procedures before the holidays.

“We have never seen it like this before, though, for this extended period of time,” Fitzgerald said. “We have never seen so many people in the hospital and had our beds at this capacity for this long. It’s really quite crazy that we’re dealing with the numbers that we are.”

Fitzgerald said the average has been about 10 COVID-19 patients a day — less than was seen even last month — but adequate staffing and resources have always been among the highest concerns.

Though there were nurses from New York who flew to the state to help out, none were sent to Logan. And traveling nurses who were hired to temporarily help all fell through. On top of burnout from the long days and extra shifts, and being put on “COVID-symptom watch” due to exposure, Fitzgerald said the caregivers have always put patients first and the vaccine will add extra protection to ensure patients are receiving the best care possible.

A long tunnel

In the Bear River Health District, though the daily COVID-19 case counts have “been all over the place” since numbers peaked in November, the rolling-average has been decreasing, according to epidemiologist Caleb Harrison.

The district is down to about 151 new cases a day, where in mid-November it was above 200. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are that many fewer cases in the community at large, because fewer people are getting tested.

“Right around the week before Thanksgiving, our average number of tests decreased significantly, and they haven’t really gone back up since,” Harrison said. “Our percent positivity has been as high as it’s ever been, which then tells me that while we do have a decrease in cases, it’s likely that we don’t have as severe a decrease in cases of what we’re what our charts are showing.”

The same phenomenon is being seen throughout the state, according to Stenehjem.

“Our numbers of COVID-19 cases are improving, and that is a testament to everybody’s public health consciousness in terms of preventing the spread of this infection,” he said. “However, our community transmission rates are very, very high. There’s no sugarcoating that we are still in the throes of a global pandemic that is affecting Utah very hard.”

As of Monday morning, Utahns account for about 57,000 of the 16 million active COVID-19 cases in the United States. Of the nearly 300,000 deaths caused by the virus in the U.S., 1,062 “are our fellow Utahns,” Stenehjem said.

Stenehjem added though the vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel, “that tunnel that we’re in is still quite long. We are still months away from widespread vaccination in our communities. So what do we need to do to span this gap from where the vaccine is now in Utah to where we have widespread vaccination in our communities.”

According to Intermountain’s Dr. Kristin Dascomb, the vaccine should be accessible to all remaining Utahns sometime between March and June.

Utah is expected to receive 23,400 single doses of the vaccine in the first shipment, with Utah Valley, LDS, the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Dixie Regional Medical Center and the University of Utah slated as highest priority.

As of Monday morning, the ICU at the U was at 101% capacity.

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