Utah reached more than 1 million reported COVID-19 cases Thursday, but a slight majority of Utahns say they’re not concerned about contracting the virus even as the new omicron subvariant of the virus known as BA.5 continues to spread.
And many more Utahns in a new Deseret News-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll say despite the ongoing pandemic, they’re comfortable attending school and church, eating in restaurants, taking their kids to a playground and going to shopping malls, sporting events and theaters.
“Yes, people should be concerned about getting COVID-19 currently. Right now, the transmission rates are very high. That concern, though, is going to be different for each individual,” Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, told reporters during a virtual news conference.
Someone who is immunosuppressed after undergoing a bone marrow transplant is going to have a high level of concern, he said, while someone younger, healthier, fully vaccinated and boosted, and who’s already had COVID-19, will be less worried, although he cautioned anyone can develop lasting symptoms known as “long COVID.”
“There isn’t one answer that fits every person. At this point, we really have to look to ourselves and say, ‘What is my risk of getting COVID? What is the risk of me transmitting to high-risk individuals? And what’s that impact going to be on my life?’” Stenehjem said.
Those at high risk for severe illness because they’re older, medically frail or significantly immunocompromised still “need to be careful regardless of their vaccination status. For those people, wearing a good, well-fitting mask when they’re around people in crowded indoor areas is absolutely the right call,” he said.
Still, Stenehjem said, “masks may not be right for everybody” and added he doesn’t expect to see mask mandates return to Utah even though they are starting to surface in other states including California, where a mask mandate is expected to take effect July 29 in Los Angeles County.
The new poll found 55% of Utahns aren’t concerned about getting COVID-19, while 45% are concerned. That’s a big change from April, when a whopping 74% told pollsters they weren’t concerned in light of Gov. Spencer Cox’s decision to shift the state’s pandemic response at the end of March to treat COVID-19 more like the flu.
When Utahns were asked how they felt about attending various activities, more than 70% say they’re comfortable with each option, ranging from 71% who were good with going to a sporting event, to 78% who said the same about shopping in a favorite store or mall.
The poll was conducted July 13-18 for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics of 801 registered voters in Utah by Dan Jones and Associates. The statewide survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
It comes as the Utah Department of Health and Human Service reported the state topped 1 million cases over the past week, with 1,004,426 cases reported, along with 267 hospitalizations for the virus and 15 additional deaths that bring Utah’s death toll to 4,884 lives lost.
Nearly all of Utah’s counties, along with some 93% of counties nationwide, are at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s highest level of COVID-19 community transmission. Five Utah counties — Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Grand and San Juan — still rank high at the CDC’s revised measure for the virus, called community levels.
Universal masking is recommended by the CDC in counties at high community levels for COVID-19.
While Stenehjem said reaching 1 million cases is “a huge milestone,” he believes it likely happened earlier this year.
That’s because the cases reported to the state are “a dramatic undercount, given the number of home tests that are being used that are not recorded,” the doctor said. The state also shifted most testing to private providers following winter’s omicron surge that sent cases soaring to record-breaking levels.
“We passed 1 million cases long ago. This is just 1 million confirmed cases,” Stenehjem said. “We reached this milestone months ago.”