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Why this one county in Utah is now up to medium risk for COVID-19

CDC elevates Summit County’s risk level

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A masked deer looks out on a very slow Main Street in Park City on April 27, 2020.

A masked deer looks out on a very slow Main Street in Park City on April 27, 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has elevated Summit County’s COVID-19 risk level to medium.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah is no longer solidly green on the nation’s COVID-19 map with only low community levels of the virus now that Summit County’s case counts and hospitalizations are up, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Summit County’s medium status, the only yellow on the Utah map, comes as other parts of the country, especially the northeast, are at high community levels for the virus. New York City has been put on “high COVID alert” by public health officials there, The New York Times reported.

Masking in public indoor settings in New York City is being strongly recommended, but New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who recently had COVID-19, said Monday, “we’re not at the point of mandating masks” because hospitals have not yet been overwhelmed by virus patients.

The CDC now only recommends universal indoor masking for counties at a high level of transmission risk. At the CDC’s medium level, people at high risk are advised to consult with their health care provider about whether they should be wearing masks and taking other precautions.

Summit County’s communications and public engagement director, Derek Siddoway, said the county supports following the CDC recommendations, which also call for staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and getting tested if symptoms are present.

“We will continue to monitor active case rates in the coming weeks,” Siddoway said, offering two reasons for the county’s shift in transmission status.

“First, the county is currently testing at higher levels than the rest of the state, which likely includes positive tests reported among asymptomatic individuals. Second, as seasonal travel and activities increase, a rise in cases is expected,” he said.

The CDC changed the way COVID-19 risk levels are calculated by county nationwide earlier this year after omicron sent case counts skyrocketing. Now it takes double the number of weekly cases per 100,000 residents, 200, to be considered at a high level of transmission.

New metrics are also being considered by the CDC, including the number of hospital admissions for the virus as well as how many hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. Those are seen as a more accurate representation of severity, and help offset what are likely suppressed case counts since home test results go unreported.

Utah replaced its own metrics for determining risk with the CDC map as part of Gov. Spencer Cox’s “steady state” response to the pandemic that turned over most testing and treatment to private providers. The Utah Legislature has restricted the ability of state and local public health officials to impose mask mandates or other measures.

Under the governor’s plan, the Utah Department of Health only updates the state’s COVID-19 numbers once a week, on Thursdays, so the department is waiting to see if more counties in the state join Summit in moving to a higher risk level, spokeswoman Charla Haley said.

Cases are rising in Utah thanks to the same new versions of omicron spreading through the northeast. Last week, more than two-thirds of wastewater treatment sites monitored by the state for traces of the virus as a key indicator of spread showed elevated levels.