SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah, Oct. 14, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson addressed the impact of the current COVID-19 case surge on Utah’s healthcare system, the increasing risk for senior citizens and how Utahns can support this at-risk group in a press conference Wednesday.
The press conference was held at the Sunday Anderson Westside Senior Center in Salt Lake City.
On Tuesday, Gov. Gary Herbert introduced a new Transmission Index, which replaces the color-coded system previously in place and which calculates the level of COVID-19 transmission in each county by analyzing three data points; percent positivity of tests, cases per 100,000, and hospital capacity.
Wilson and other community leaders spoke specifically about steps the community can take to support older adults as cases rise. At present, 259 people are hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19; a record number.
“When the hospitals start calling me, I take note,” Wilson told assembled reporters. “Right now I fear our hospitals are facing a pretty serious crisis. The increase of cases that we saw in early September among young people has now created more spread in our community, a more general risk, and hospitals are reaching what healthcare directors call surge capacity. Nearly two-thirds of our ICU beds are full, and our emergency rooms are packed. Our healthcare leaders are telling us what we already know and have seen on television; that their staff are tapped out, that they’re suffering, that they’re stressed and they’re tired, and this is all happening as we lead into flu season.”
This impacts everyone in need of urgent healthcare, Wilson said. She broke down in tears as she described how her mother-in-law recently passed away, not from COVID-19; Wilson’s husband had the opportunity to say goodbye to her but their children did not.
“I continue to be dumbfounded by messaging from our President and others who believe him that this is not a community crisis,” she added. She said she recently had the opportunity to check in with Rep. Ben McAdams, who had COVID-19 in March, and hear about his journey.
“I’ve had friends who are doing better but still worry about their general health long term,” she said. “It’s false, it’s dangerous and it’s misguided for the President to continue those conversations, especially at a time in this state when we see cases on the uptick.”
She said hospitals both large and small are being affected.
“This is a real crisis, our need around this is more urgent right now and I want to emphasize that we have a stricter guide from the state now and what it really tells us is that groups, and group gatherings, of any form, should not continue,” Wilson said. “That means not inviting family over to the house on Sunday. It means fewer people over to dinner, and socially distancing in those settings. We have to make personal choices, not just be regulated by what used to be a color code and now is an advisory system. We need to each make wise choices and it’s all the more important with flu season.”
Wilson said that since the first week of September, there have been 220 hospitalizations of people in 60s, 70s and 80s, with 42 deaths in that age group in Salt Lake County. Those in their 40s, 50s and 60s are also at increased risk of hospitalization. Of those in their 40s with COVID, 5% have needed hospitalization. Of those in their 50s, that goes up to 18% who have needed hospitalization. Of those in their 60s, 31% have needed hospitalization.
“If we wear face coverings and social distance we can drive these numbers down as a community,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to do more to keep our seniors safe, and that begins with us.”
Salt Lake County Health Department Director Gary Edwards then spoke, emphasizing the importance of mask wearing even in the home if a family member is sick, or among friends in groups of any size, both indoor and out.
“The message remains I think very simple,” Edwards said. “If you don’t live with someone and you’re around them, you need to be wearing a face covering. If we step up our game a little bit in that area, we will see benefits of those practices.”
Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services Director Paul Leggett also spoke about steps the community can take to support older adults.
Leggett said it is important to check in with older family and friends at this time and see what their needs are, or visit them if the visit is outside and masks are worn.
“Further, we can help the elderly adults in our lives use technology and stay socially connected during this difficult time,” he said. “With this in mind Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services has opened a virtual senior center. This provides activities, social engagement and support to older adults while our physical locations remain closed.” The activities can be done at home, via telephone or online. Leggett said the county offers around 90 classes per month to seniors.
He said Meals on Wheels services continue and most senior centers are also serving cold meals to those in need. Employees are making check-in phone calls to seniors and the county has a tablet lending library to provide seniors with technology.
For more information on services offered to seniors call the Utah high-risk hotline at 1-877-424-4840. The hotline has been put into place to help people get meals, groceries, and medications dropped off at the houses of high-risk individuals. The hotline runs Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Representatives from the Department of Human Resources will be answering these calls.