Although COVID-19 infection numbers are still posted weekly on the state and local health department websites, the data is likely far from an accurate reflection of virus cases since lab testing has declined significantly this spring.
But that isn’t causing too much concern among health officials because the prevalent variant of the virus isn’t posing the same threat to life of its predecessors, according to BRHD public information officer Estee Hunt.
Hunt is talking about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, or more specifically a sublineage of it known as EA.2 currently circulating in Utah.
“People are not being hospitalized or dying to the extent that they were with Delta,” she said. “The strain itself does not cause as intense symptoms, and secondly, people are vaccinated, they’ve been infected before. All those things come into play.”
Hunt added, however, that the health department will continue to keep a close eye on hospitalization and death rates if not so much the number of people testing positive for COVID.
“If we start seeing those increase significantly, then we see a problem. But if we just see cases rising and not hospitalizations and severity of illness then we consider it more like the common cold,” she said.
A link to COVID information is still the top item on the BRHD website. Numbers there show the last coronavirus death in the health district — which includes Cache, Rich and Box Elder Counties — was April 3. This year’s peak came in the last week of January, when nine deaths were recorded during a well-documented coronavirus surge across Utah.
All COVID numbers have declined steadily since then, and in April the state converted from daily to weekly data updates because of both that and the unreliability of case numbers after most people opted for home rapid-antigen tests over time-consuming visits to test sites.
State mass-testing stations such as the one previously set up at the Hyde Park InstaCare have ceased operation in Cache Valley, but people can still get PCR tests through a number of locations listed at the BRHD website.
Vaccinations have also become a much lower-key affair than when the health department had a team of volunteers in its Logan office helping residents through the process and vaccinations were being given at fire stations and other locales.
“Just walk in to the health department and you can get a shot when you come in,” Hunt said.
The health department is still urging vaccinations and boosters, and Hunt said the second booster shot, made available to a limited group of older and immunocompromised individuals, has so far been given to 2,330 people in the Bear River Health District.
Although case numbers aren’t being watched as closely, sewage monitoring for coronavirus markers continues across Utah, and Cache Valley has seen a recent uptick in readings.
“That’s not surprising,” Hunt said. “They’re saying that we will see an increase in COVID because that’s what we’re seeing on the East Coast, and we usually go about a month past that. But it’s really not increasing hospitalizations and things, from what I understand, so the concern is not to a level that it used to be.”
As far as taking precautions goes, Hunt offered this advice:
“The biggest thing is to stay home if you’re sick. I think we’re all really sick of that and everybody just wants to get back to normal, but I think one thing we’ve learned is if we want to prevent the spread of any type of disease or illness, the best thing to do is just stay home if we’re sick.”