UTAH, Jan. 14, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Gov. Spencer Cox on Friday addressed Utahns about the shifting COVID-19 landscape, and the changes he believes have been forced by the nature of the omicron variant.
Among the changes announced for the state are:
- A temporary halt to the test-to-stay programs in schools
- A request that people who suspect they have the virus stay home and quarantine, and leave available tests for those who need them most — medical personnel and those working with high-risk populations
Cox, state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen, and several others talked about the COVID-19 variant, and what has allowed it to become so prevalent in the past month.
Because omicron is about 25 times as contagious as the previous delta variant, people behaving in the same manner they did before late December will be much more likely to be infected than they would have with previous variants.
Cox said that a nationwide survey of variables still shows the people most likely to avoid the virus or get a lighter case are those who vaccinate and get booster shots.
Respirator masks offer more protection than cloth masks, Cox said, but the fact that medical personnel who make fastidious use of respirator masks still get infected by patients shows the strength of the omicron variant.
Omicron also seems to sicken most people for a shorter period of time, but the virus is still deadly to many, as illustrated by Utah’s daily update of COVID numbers.
Cox said COVID-19 tests are currently in short supply in Utah, due to very high demand and a shipment that has been delayed.
Nolen talked about the state’s response, including the temporary hold on the test-to-stay policy in schools, and the request that people of average health stop getting tested and enter self-quarantine.
Nolen said the change is a lot to accept, but “there are so many cases going around now that we know if you have symptoms, you most likely have COVID. And so the benefit of getting that test is really decreased.”
Testing exposes people to additional people, increasing the risk of spreading.
“What is more important is keeping you away from other people so you don’t transmit it,” Nolen said. “So instead of getting tested, instead of going out and exposing more people, we recommend anyone who has symptoms stays home and isolates for five days, and we would ask you to act as if you are confirmed.”
People with significant underlying conditions should still get tested, Nolen said, as should medical personnel and people working with at-risk populations. But there’s another reason just knowing test results may not make a real difference.
“Our treatment options in Utah are quite limited,” she said. “It’s limited in the entire US. Unfortunately omicron has taken out a few of the medications, the monoclonal antibodies that we were able to treat delta with, right now, we don’t have those because omicron is resistant to those. But there is still a value if you have significant underlying conditions. If you’re elderly, we do recommend you still go get tested so that you can understand what your risk is.”
For a high-risk person with COVID-19 symptoms, a test to rule out the coronavirus could allow a doctor to seek out the true source of the ailment for effective treatment, Nolen said.
Cox said the current variant of the virus has changed the rules.
“Exponential change is hard for people to understand. What we do know for sure, and there is now broad agreement, is that against omicron it’s so hard to change our mindset from previous variants. It’s not that we change, this is the virus changing.
“So what we know is that cloth masks do not work at all. I saw one national expert who said they’re window dressing, so a cloth mask doesn’t do anything. Most experts now are looking at the disposable surgical masks against omicron. They probably don’t work as well as they did against past variants for the reasons we already mentioned. So again, there’s evidence we’re shedding a million times more viral load than we were before.”
Cox talked about eating out.
“So this idea that we wear masks and we go into a restaurant, and then we take our masks off and we didn’t drink, or somehow the virus knows not to infect us during those times — that’s not a thing. Every time you’re in a room and you see somebody kind of pull down their masks to kind of catch their breath. Now we have viral spread and again the most contagious virus that we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”
Cox said he does see some good news about the variant’s high transmission rate.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to enter the endemic phase of this. This pandemic, it will stop being a pandemic and will start being endemic.”
A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents, according to definitions on the Intermountain Healthcare website. An endemic is described as something that belongs to a particular people or country.
Cox said the cruelty of pandemics is that they separate people, as a step taken for survival, while all other types of crises work to bring people together.
“We need to be close to each other, we need to come together,” Cox said. “And this cruel virus has prevented us from doing that in ways that we’ve done that in the past, and that has caused immense strain on so many people, traumatic strain and, of course, physical strain for those families who have been impacted. There will be people hospitalized, there will be people who die from omicron even though it’s milder and even though we have all these tools, there will be people whose lives are impacted forever because of this.
“We need more than ever to come together, and we have to find ways to connect. We have to give grace for people. People are reacting differently. We fall into our tribes, we’re back again having these alpha fights, you know, in an omicron world we’re still fighting about masks.”
Cox said he is optimistic that there are healing days just weeks ahead.
“I am more optimistic than I have been at any point in this pandemic that, with omicron spreading so rapidly, that it will help us move on, that it will give us the type of immunity that we’ve needed all along to get us through this, combined with vaccines. That we will be able, after this in the next couple of weeks, as those numbers come down significantly, to return to normal.
“And I hope that each of us will come back together to forgive each other, to care for each other and to move forward.”