New data on breakthrough hospitalizations ‘very persuasive’ for vaccines, Cox says

An individual receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Salt Lake City Tuesday. Utah health officials reported 1,635 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. (Winston Armani, KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox on Friday said data from the state’s largest hospital system is “very persuasive” in support of vaccinations over masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Over the last 30 days, Intermountain Healthcare has treated 339 patients with the novel coronavirus in intensive care units, Cox tweeted. Of them, 297 — or 88% — were unvaccinated, and 42 were vaccinated.

“That’s very persuasive and right in line with projections. But digging deeper the data gets MUCH more persuasive,” the governor said.

Of those who were fully vaccinated, 93% were older than 50 and 90% had “significant” comorbidities, according to Cox. The average age for vaccinated ICU patients at Intermountain is 69, and the average age for unvaccinated patients is 52.

By comparison, of the unvaccinated ICU patients, 57% were older than age 50, and 61% had comorbidities, according to the series of tweets from the governor.

“In other words, these were VERY healthy people that we would not expect to see — completely preventable for them,” Cox said, warning that “it gets worse.”

“Vaccinated ICU patients have average comorbidity scores of 5.8 (meaning 5.8 different pre-existing medical conditions). These patients were VERY sick to begin with,” Cox said.

Meanwhile, unvaccinated patients who have been hospitalized have an average comorbidity score of 1.8, he added.

The governor then acknowledged “inarticulate” statements he made earlier this week regarding masks. Cox prompted criticism from some after a Tuesday news conference when he urged more understanding between those whom he described as “extreme maskers” and “anti-maskers” in the state.

“My purpose wasn’t to imply that masks don’t work at all, but that they pale in comparison to vaccines,” he said Friday.

But he said the state received new data that a 29% increase in the wearing of non-cloth masks has led to a 9% decrease in COVID-19 cases.

“And while there is still debate in the medical community around masks in young populations … we have provided 1.2 million surgical and KN95 masks for young students and teachers with another 750k on the way,” Cox added.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, speaking from St. George, echoed a call from a nurse she spoke to for greater civility during the pandemic.

“We just need people to be nice to each other, no matter what you think, no matter what you believe, and no matter who you are, be nice,” she said. “It’s one of the things that’s been wearing on the hospital staff is the emotional toll this is taking on them.”

New cases

Utah health officials reported 1,635 new COVID-19 cases, as well as six deaths on Friday.

School-age children accounted for 453 of those cases —163 cases were between the ages of 5 and 10, 122 cases were 11-13, and 168 were 14-18. The Utah Department of Health notes, however, that there may be a lag in school-related cases getting reported. Local health departments have the most current data for each school district.

The rolling, seven-day average now stands at 1,365 new cases per day, and the percent positivity rate of those tested is 14.01%.

Health care workers administered 8,296 vaccine doses since Thursday’s report, bringing total vaccinations given in Utah to 3,281,029. Now, 49.6% of residents in the state are fully vaccinated, health department data shows.

In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have experienced 4.8 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 5.7 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 5 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Since Feb. 1, people who are unvaccinated have been at 5.6 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 5.3 times greater risk of being hospitalized, and 4.6 times greater risk of testing positive than vaccinated people.

On Friday, 219 of the latest cases, nine hospitalizations and two deaths were “breakthrough” cases among people who had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks ago.

Breakthrough cases now stand at 11,194; with 611 breakthrough cases requiring hospitalization; and 58 fully vaccinated people have died in Utah — representing 2.38% of the state’s cases, just under 3% of hospitalizations, and about 2.2% of deaths since the pandemic began. But because the vaccine became available several months after the start of the pandemic and Utahns are continuing to get vaccinated, data on breakthrough cases is a lagging indicator of risk.

On Friday, 503 patients were hospitalized with the disease in Utah, 184 of whom were in intensive care units. Referral ICUs that can treat the most seriously ill patients were 92.5% full, overall ICU use stood at 89.1%, and overall hospital use was 64.5%.

St. George ICU over 140% capacity

Dr. Patrick Carroll, the medical director at St. George Regional Hospital, said his hospital’s ICU has been operating at more than 100% capacity for two weeks.

“In fact, (it’s) at about 140%-144% ICU capacity today,” he said. “It’s been two weeks since we’ve been over 100% capacity at the ICU. We continue to take care of patients that have emergent and urgent needs. We’ve had to discontinue elective surgeries that require an ICU bed and most elective surgeries that require a hospital bed.”

The latest deaths:

  • A Davis County man, between the ages of 25 and 44, who was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Duchesne County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Wasatch County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.

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