Long lines at testing sites as COVID cases spikeJan 06, 2022 11:03AM ● By Becky Ginos
Drivers wind their way through the parking lot of City Hall and down Main Street for several blocks waiting to get a COVID test. Photos by Roger V. Tuttle
BOUNTIFUL—With COVID cases reaching an all-time high during the holidays, testing sites are seeing a flood of people coming in. The testing site at the Bountiful Veterans Park has a long line of cars snaking from the Library to 1300 South every day all day. In spite of that, physicians are still recommending individuals get tested as soon as they show any symptoms.
“We haven’t seen a major difference in Omicron symptoms,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem
Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Diseases Physician. “Look for the same common cold symptoms. It’s really challenging because we’re in the middle of winter so we have plenty of other upper respiratory viruses like influenza that all have similar symptoms. That’s why it is so important if you have any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection regardless of how mild, you need to get tested for COVID-19.”
The Utah State Department of Health reported more than 3,000 cases in one day last week and on Monday had a count of 14,754 total new cases since before the holiday on Thursday, Dec. 30.
“A lot has happened in the last seven to 10 days, said Stenehjem. “That 3,000 cases is the highest in a long time and that will continue to go up.”
Hospitalizations are going down albeit slowly, he said. “Don’t let this give us false hope. It’s great those hospitalizations are going down but those patients in the hospital right now are infected with Delta. As we see the cases go up we’ll see hospitalizations go up as well, as people are infected with Omicron.”
How fast the case curve goes up then the trajectory goes down has yet to be determined, said Stenehjem. “What we’re seeing in South Africa is cases going down already. In London they’re flattening and in Germany and Norway they’re going down. So it seems like most of these countries have had a pretty rapid rise and a pretty rapid fall. We’ll see if Utah falls in that same category.”
Keep in mind that as Omicron is spreading, the population here has significant immunity, he said. “Look at those people who have been vaccinated, 60 percent plus and all of those people who have previously been infected. There’s a large portion of our community that has had some prior immunity to SARS-CoV2.”
The CDC has come out with updated guidelines as of Jan. 4. “If someone has mild symptoms at day five they can come out of isolation and continue wearing a mask for five days,” Stenehjem said. “If a healthcare worker is asymptomatic they can come back to work on day five. Omicron has a shorter incubation period. Most people are most highly infectious right before and right after.”
Those individuals 18 and older who have had their booster dose or are recently vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19 don’t need to quarantine at home but should wear a mask for the 10 days after their last exposure, according to the CDC guidelines.
“We’re better off than last year at this time,” said Stenehjem. “We have multiple vaccines, we know they work and that the booster is effective against Omicron. We hope to see this small blip and employ mitigation efforts that work. Let’s do what we can to reduce the spread.”
Stenehjem said he hopes this will be a much shorter period than with Delta. “We have the tools we need to get through this safely. It’s just a matter of doubling down. What we’re seeing is that it should go up quickly and go down quickly.”