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Davis begins testing student-athletes as COVID-19 deaths top 900 in Utah

Intermountain Healthcare kicks off new trial for drugs to prevent long-term complications from COVID-19

Woods Cross High School basketball player Kiegan Phung gets a COVID-19 test from registered nurse Shanna Robbins at the school in Woods Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. A state public health order requires that high schools verify that each participant in athletic and extracurricular activities receive a COVID-19 test before taking part in the activity.
Woods Cross High School basketball player Kiegan Phung gets a COVID-19 test from registered nurse Shanna Robbins at the school in Woods Cross on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. A state public health order requires that high schools verify that each participant in athletic and extracurricular activities receive a COVID-19 test before taking part in the activity.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Davis School District began on Wednesday testing student-athletes for COVID-19.

“If you want to play sports, this is mandatory,” district spokesman Chris Williams said. “You have to be healthy to play.”

Two of the 168 members of the basketball, swimming, wrestling, drill or drama teams who were tested at Woods Cross High School tested positive on Wednesday. The rapid tests provided by the Davis County Health Department have results within 20 minutes and the two found to be infected were sent home.

Statewide, the Utah Department of Health reported more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and another 17 Utahns died from the disease.

Williams said the school district’s entire team of 25 nurses is implementing the districtwide testing of student-athletes, making its way through all the high schools. Thursday, students at Bountiful High School will be tested and another on Monday, until all 2,000-plus student-athletes and coaching staff are tested.

Athlete testing will continue every two weeks to comply with Utah public health orders that indicate students must be tested to participate.

“It’s a big job,” Williams said.

Though if they’re following the current rules, students already feeling ill shouldn’t be at school, said the district’s nurse coordinator Margo Hill. She anticipated catching a couple asymptomatic cases.

“I think it would be disturbing to some of the students if they found out they have it through this,” she said, adding that contact tracing might also lead to disappointment among other team members.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure school is a healthy place,” Williams said.

All nine high schools within Davis County have experienced soft closures, which happens when 15 or more positive COVID-19 cases are identified among students who are attending school. Three of the district’s junior high schools have also been directed to online-only learning because of increasing number of COVID-19 cases among students.

Williams said two elementary schools in the district, Bluff Ridge and West Point, both in northern Davis County, will close tomorrow for two weeks.

Research opportunity

Utah’s COVID-19 patients have an opportunity to be some of the first to enroll in a worldwide study that will help determine preventive treatment for potential long-term complications of the disease.

“While there is a lot of excitement out there for vaccines, COVID-19 is not going away from our community anytime soon,” said Dr. Sarah Majercik, a trauma surgeon with Intermountain Healthcare and principal investigator of a study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Operation Warp Speed.

Intermountain is looking to enroll at least 700 patients between ages 40 and 80 who have tested positive with COVID-19 within the last two weeks and are willing to take a mild blood-thinning medication for 45 of the 75-day trial.

“The more knowledge we have, the more helpful it will be going forward,” Majercik said, adding that “a substantial proportion” of COVID-19 patients end up having long-term complications and those complications may be caused by blood clots brought on by the novel coronavirus.

“Inflammation in these patients is to a level we haven’t seen before with other disease profiles,” said Dr. Joseph Bledsoe, director of research in the department of emergency medicine at Intermountain Healthcare, who helped develop the study and bring it to Utah first.

Blood clots, he said, are a known complication of COVID-19, including in the brain, heart, lungs and legs, but microscopic blood clots have been found in autopsy reports of people who died from COVID-19, leading researchers to believe they might be worsening the effects of disease for some people.

“These are tiny clots that we can’t detect by traditional imaging methods but when in the lungs they may cause patients who are first seem stable to get much sicker quickly, have breathing difficulties, and potentially need a ventilator,” Majercik said. “Our aim in this study is to see if these drugs can stop clots from forming so patients who are not hospitalized never fall into this severe category of disease.”

She said the majority of Utahns with COVID-19 don’t end up in the hospital, which stands to benefit others, even save lives in the long-run.

To enroll in the new Intermountain study, patients need only email Intermountain clinical investigators at COVIDOutpatientTrials@imail.org. They will be sent a blood-thinning medication (either aspirin, Eliquis or a placebo) and can conduct all study-related business from home. Intermountain is covering the cost of the medications and is offering a $50 Amazon gift card to anyone who enrolls.

These medications were selected because they have already been proven safe and effective and are commonly used to prevent and treat blood clots in millions of patients every day, according to Bledsoe.

Patients are not advised to start taking blood-thinning medications on their own, however, the Intermountain doctors said. Majercik said the safest way to use blood-thinners to prevent problems would be to participate in the trial, which is under a doctor’s supervision.

Most of the ongoing COVID-19 related research looks at “the sickest of the sick,” she said, and this study is unique in that it focuses on patients who were not hospitalized with COVID-19. It is available to patients in an outpatient setting who maybe aren’t yet experiencing severe complications of the disease.

The goal is to see if some of that is preventable.

The knowledge gained from the study, Majercik said, could end up being a positive impact of the pandemic.

“This study is about our community,” Majercik said.

The 700 patients enrolled in the Intermountain study in Utah will make up a portion of the 7,000 enrolled across the United States and Canada.

Cases surge continues

The state health department reported 4,004 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, after testing 9,434 additional people. More than 1.4 million people have been tested for the virus in Utah since mid-March, with 202,220 of them testing positive.

There are also 571 people hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout the state, according to the health department.

The rolling seven-day average number of new positive tests per day is 2,611, with an average percent positivity of 22.6%.

Among the latest deaths in Utah are 13 men and four women, bringing the total number of COVID-19-caused deaths to 906 in the state. Nationwide, more than 271,000 have succumbed to the rampantly spreading disease, with current surging case numbers happening in nearly every state.

Compared with other states, Utah has the 25th highest number of cases, 16,095, in the last seven days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California has had the highest, with 99,490 cases, and Vermont has had the lowest, with 493 reported in the last week.

The 17 new deaths reported Wednesday include:

  • Utah County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident
  • Utah County man, older than 85, hospitalized
  • Salt Lake County man, 65-84, hospitalized
  • Salt Lake County man, 65-84, hospitalized
  • Box Elder County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident
  • Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized
  • Uintah County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident
  • Davis County man, 65-84, hospitalized
  • Washington County man, older than 85, hospitalized
  • Weber County man, 45-64, hospitalized
  • Utah County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident
  • Weber County man, 65-84, hospitalized
  • Box Elder County female, 45-64, hospitalized
  • Weber County female, 25-44, hospitalized
  • Salt Lake County female, 45-64, long-term care facility resident
  • Utah County female, 65-84, long-term care facility resident

New COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday by health district:

  • Utah County, 774
  • Salt Lake County, 476
  • Weber-Morgan, 383
  • Southwest Utah, 363
  • Davis County, 327
  • Bear River, 231
  • Wasatch County, 71
  • Tooele County, 65
  • Southeast Utah, 44
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 35
  • Summit County, 19
  • San Juan County, 14
  • Central Utah, 2