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Utah doctors concerned about flu season spike on top of COVID-19, RSV

Salt Lake City resident Kim Irwin Pack receives an influenza vaccine at the Salt Lake Public Health Center.
Salt Lake City resident Kim Irwin Pack receives an influenza vaccine from nurse Kimberly Goldberg at the Salt Lake Public Health Center on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. While COVID-19 and RSV remain a concern ahead of the holidays, doctors at Primary Children’s Hospital are afraid communitywide influenza spikes could bring more kids into hospitals.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

While COVID-19 and RSV remain a concern ahead of the holidays, doctors at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City are afraid communitywide influenza spikes could more kids into hospitals.

Dr. Trahern Jones, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, said the hospital system is seeing a rise in flu cases across Utah, including in children.

Meanwhile on Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported 1,330 new COVID-19 cases and eight new deaths. The rolling, seven-day average for positive tests is 1,254 per day, and the average positive rate of those tested is 15.4%.

Last week, the Intermountain system confirmed 125 flu cases, and numbers are "only rising on an exponential rate," Jones said during a news conference Friday.

The Utah health department still categorizes flu cases as "low" in severity across the state with sporadic spread, according to data from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4, the latest data available. Ten flu-associated hospitalizations have been confirmed so far in Utah this season, according to the health department.

But Jones said the state has a 14% lower flu vaccination rate this year compared to last year at the same time.

"This has got us concerned that we're kind of vulnerable to rising flu cases," he said.

"We're really busy at Primary Children's. We're busy across the system,” Jone said. “We're still dealing with a huge surge of children with RSV," as well as COVID-19 cases.

So far, Primary Children's Hospital has seen a few flu hospitalizations but not many, he said.

But this year could bring a larger surge because the state did not experience much of a flu season last year due to precautions against COVID-19 — meaning immunity wasn't gained, Jones said.

If the state gets hit with a large flu surge at the same time, "it's going to be pretty rough," the doctor added.

Another virus in the mix adds more danger for health care workers, who would risk catching flu at the same time as COVID-19.

Jones urged residents to talk to their doctor about flu vaccines and to get themselves and their kids protected from the flu. The COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccines can be administered at the same time, Jones added, and they should each be widely available at pharmacies and primary care clinics.

More illnesses spreading in the community also creates an issue with hospital staffing, he said, as health care workers are affected by community spread.

"It's a challenge. It's hard. This is a lot of work, and you can tell it does get some people fatigued. That being said, we're doing everything we can to make sure our staff is taken care of, our pediatricians or residents and everybody else needs the time they need to be off," he said.

New Utah data

School-age children accounted for 229 of the new cases reported Friday — 124 cases were ages 5-10, 40 cases were 11-13, and 65 cases were 14-17, officials with the state health department said.

Of the total new cases, 379 were breakthrough, meaning the patient had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks before COVID-19 diagnoses. Two of the deaths were also breakthrough cases. The state has now confirmed 52,990 breakthrough cases since vaccines first became available in Utah, as well as 319 breakthrough deaths.

In all, there have been 610,681 known COVID-19 cases in Utah since the first cases were reported in March 2020.

Since Thursday’s report, health care workers administered 18,702 more doses of vaccine, bringing the total doses given in Utah to 4,310,671. About 1.85 million people in Utah are considered fully vaccinated.

On Friday, 536 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus in Utah — 30 more than were hospitalized one week before, on Friday, Dec. 3. Referral intensive care units that can treat the most serious patients were 99.1% full, and overall intensive care use was at 95.4% capacity, according to health department data.

Three deaths reported Friday occurred before Nov. 10. The latest deaths include:

  • A Salt Lake County woman older than 85, who was a long-term care facility resident when she died.
  • A Weber County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Piute County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Weber County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Weber County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Utah County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.