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Utah reevaluating COVID-19 treatment qualifications after Fox News host claims whites are losing out

Decision to review scoring system based on scarcity, state health department says

The Utah Department of Health Monoclonal Antibody Infusion Center is pictured at the campus of the Intermountain Healthcare Employee Services Center in Murray on Sept. 22, 2021. The deployable medical facility is set to provide treatment to as many as 50 patients per day, and supplement monoclonal antibody infusions already taking place in hospitals across Utah.
The Utah Department of Health Monoclonal Antibody Infusion Center is pictured at the campus of the Intermountain Healthcare Employee Services Center in Murray on Sept. 22, 2021. The deployable medical facility was set up to provide treatment to as many as 50 patients per day, and supplement monoclonal antibody infusions already taking place in hospitals across Utah.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

Utah’s risk factors for determining who qualifies for limited monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 are being reevaluated, the state health department announced Tuesday, a day after Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against Utah and other states for giving greater weight to non-whites.

“Nobody automatically qualifies for treatment based on their race/ethnicity,” Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said in a statement about the state’s “COVID-19 treatment risk score calculator,” created in 2020 to help determine who is at most risk for severe disease, hospitalization and death from the virus.

But Hudachko told the Deseret News he had “no idea what Tucker Carlson said” about Utah, so the decision to take another look at the risk factors is “not related to anything he said.”

The calculator assigns points to various factors, including 0.5 for every decade of age; one each for being male and/or having various specific comorbidities including hypertension, congestive heart failure and chronic liver or kidney disease.

The most points awarded, two each, are for being obese, diabetic or severely immunocompromised; or for being “non-white race or Hispanic/Latinx ethnicity.” Unvaccinated Utahns now need at least 7.5 points to qualify for the treatment, or at least 10 if they are fully vaccinated, according to the document.

The scores needed were raised last week because omicron has limited the availability of the intravenous treatment, since two of the three types available are not effective against the extremely fast-spreading COVID-19 variant that has sent Utah’s case counts soaring to more than double previous record levels.

Utahns were warned Thursday by health care providers there were only enough treatments for 1 in 100 who would qualify due to the state’s “really dire position when it comes to COVID-19.” Tuesday, the state health department reported 9,813 new cases and 15 additional deaths from the virus, including three that occurred prior to Dec. 11.

Hudachko said scarcity is the reason the factors were reevaluated last week and are being looked at again.

“Use of the COVID-19 treatment risk score calculator has evolved throughout the pandemic, but has always relied on current clinical data of COVID-19 patients. Given the extreme scarcity of COVID-19 treatments due to the prevalence of the omicron variant, we are re-evaluating the calculator and comparing it to current data,” he said.

Gov. Spencer Cox’s office said they’ve received around 50 calls about Carlson’s claims on Fox News that COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are being denied based on race, pointing to Utah, New York, Minnesota and other states. The Fox News host cited Utah’s scoring system.

Utah has “triaged” COVID-19 patients using a scoring system that Carlson said “gives two points to anyone simply for not being white. You win if you’re not white. If you have congestive heart failure at the same time, you get one point. So if you’re a white, congestive heart failure patient, that’s not enough for you.”

Carlson went on to say that what Utah and other states are doing “is not health care, it’s punishment, it’s punishment meted out on the basis of skin color,” which he claimed is being justified because “the United States has mistreated racial minorities in centuries past, they say. Therefore, whites must suffer now.”

The risk factors, Hudachko said, came from a subcommittee of the Utah Crisis Standards of Care Workgroup and are based on data and research provided by Intermountain Healthcare. The standards put in place by the workgroup are intended to lay out how health care should be rationed as demand exceeds what’s available.

The health care system’s research evaluated more than 100,000 Utahns who tested positive for COVID-19, considering variables including age, gender, symptoms, chronic medical conditions and geography, and found that non-whites or Hispanic/Latinx people are 35-50% more likely to be hospitalized, Hudachko said.

While race does not automatically qualify someone to receive the monoclonal antibody treatment, other factors do, such as living in a long-term care facility, being unvaccinated and pregnant, or having a severe immunocompromising condition, he said.