COVID-19 Weekly Update, March 2, 2021
By: Michael Good, MD | Mar 3, 2021 7:30 AM
Transcript of Dr. Good's COVID-19 Weekly Update, March 2, 2021
Hello, I'm Michael Good, CEO of University of Utah Health, presenting the COVID-19 Update for March 2, 2021. And in a week that marks the one-year anniversary of many of the initial events in our pandemic, we thought we would share a few today. March 6, 2020 was the date that the state of Utah reported its first citizen with coronavirus. And we fast-forward just under a year to March 1, 2021, an important day here at University of Utah Health, as we vaccinated our first patients at Redwood Health Center in our community. So as we look back over this one-year period from when we had our first patient in the state until we vaccinated our first patient at University of Utah Health, we bring back some of the early curves. We've learned so much about a viral pandemic over the last year.
Remember, we talked early about, if left unchecked, the rate of viral spread throughout our community, as shown in the red diagram here, without social measures such as distancing, hand-washing, and later masking, that the number of patients needing hospitalization would overwhelm our health care capability, shown here by the dotted line across the chart. And this is the situation we wanted to avoid, where the individuals needing healthcare would exceed the capacity of the health systems. And so we spoke about proactive measures to slow the spread of the disease, reduce the number of patients needing hospitalization, and we talked about, often for the first time, things such as telecommuting, limiting large gatherings, reducing travel, and again, hand-washing, masking, physical distancing, and so on, and if we implemented these things, we would lower the curve and bring the curve under the demand on the health system, and this was the goal that we talked about early on in the pandemic.
And now flash-forward to where we are today, one year later, and look at what we did as a community together. Our goal was to avoid this and it was to achieve this, and look at the tracing here that we approximate. And as you remember, when we were up here in this period, there were days both here at University of Utah Health and in the hospitals of our colleagues across the country where we got dangerously close to not having an intensive care bed for everyone who needed one. But we came together as a community, we came together as health systems, and every patient who needed a bed was able to find one and we were then able to enter this back part of the pandemic, where now we're back to a more comfortable level of operation in our hospitals throughout the state. The anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic also comes with a significant emotional response, a significant challenge to our mental wellness and our mental health.
When there is a disaster, early parts of the disaster actually are associated with an increased emotional state among our community, often heroic efforts, and even into the community, coming together. For many weeks and months at the beginning of a disaster, a sustained challenge such as the pandemic, the initial periods are met with increases in emotional well-being. But as the pandemic, the disaster continues over time there is a dramatic decrease in emotional well-being. And last week, we spoke about the drag, the pull that we're all feeling, the heaviness as we try to get through the last stages, hopefully, the last stages of this pandemic. During these periods, there are triggers that drop our emotional well-being even lower. But often, some of those trigger periods are the anniversary dates themselves. So this week and in the week that follows, reach out to colleagues support one another, whether community members, healthcare workers. This is a time for us to be worried about, care about, and connect with one another.
Hopefully, as we work through the vaccines, which we'll talk about in a minute, the increasing immunity in our communities, we will enter the reconstruction, the new beginning phase, the moving forward, and with that, an improvement in emotional well-being. Along this path, there will be ups and downs. There will be occasional setbacks, and we need to work through the grief. We've lost many friends and colleagues in our community to this virus, to COVID-19, but I do think there is light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully as you work through some of these challenges in your lives and in the lives of friends and family know that we're hopefully entering a period where some of the heaviness will be lifted as we move forward. So coming back to our more traditional graphs, at the national level, after several weeks of a pretty rapid decline in new cases of COVID at the national level, there has been a leveling off here as you can see on the last few bars on this chart.
And similarly, on death from coronavirus, after a good period of decline, the seven-day trend also leveling off—speaking to the need to continue the public health measures as we continue to press the vaccine rollout forward. Fortunately, here in the state of Utah, although the rate of descent is slowing a bit, we fortunately are continuing to see fewer and fewer coronavirus cases each day. Similarly, we see an overall declining death rate from coronavirus in our state, although there continues to be significant day-to-day variation reported in the national statistics. In the inset, we show the Utah Department of Health Statistics which continue to show a sustained decline in deaths from coronavirus. The differences between the two most likely relate to how when two, three, or four weeks after someone has passed away, it is confirmed through laboratory tests or other methods that they died from COVID-19. But whether either chart of the overall trend is declining, and so for the state of Utah, we have declining new cases and we have declining deaths from coronavirus.
With those declining cases, we see further reduction in the active infections, now under 17,000 in our state. That means we're approaching one in 200 individuals with an active coronavirus infection, down from one in 50. So quite an improvement from well over 60,000 Utahns with an active infection to now under 17,000. As we've mentioned the last couple of weeks, the national trend has plateaued, and then is coming down slightly. But certainly not this impressive decline that we've seen in the state of Utah, so fewer and fewer active infections. Our reproductive number, which defines how fast the virus is spreading, continues to be below one. As Dr. Zhang pointed out to me, the six week inset for the first time of our reporting is under one for the whole six week period. So, again, another measure of the slowing of the viral spread with each individual with an infection spreading it to fewer than one other individual.
Another way of looking at our declining hospitalizations, shown with the orange line, declining patients with COVID in ICUs now under 100 for the first time since way back here last fall, and fewer and fewer admissions, shown on the blue line, of patients with COVID being admitted to our hospitals. So whether you look at the new cases, as shown by the gray and yellow bars, or the hospitalization ICU or admissions, all those declining trends continued during the past week. Low levels of coronavirus at the University of Utah, averaging now under five individuals a day with coronavirus. Here yesterday, we had another day with no reported cases of coronavirus on our campus. We are in two weeks of remote learning as we did last semester and halfway through the year we've seen only a quarter of the cases that we saw through the whole fall semester. So low levels of virus on the University of Utah campus.
The vaccination program continues. Now, we're beginning to approach 80 percent of 70 year-olds and 75 percent of 80 year-olds and above having been vaccinated. And with the guidelines changing to those over 65, you can see that the 60 to 69 year-old group also now approaching 30 percent of that population, that age group, have been vaccinated. We are, thanks to many, and we appreciate the leadership of our governor and our legislature, we are receiving additional shipments of vaccine this week, not only the Pfizer and the Moderna, but scheduled deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was approved over the weekend, arriving in our state later this week. The state has asked, and the health systems have agreed, to step up and help with the vaccination program, especially as more vaccine arrives in our state. And so you can see the 14 additional sites from Intermountain, University of Utah Health, and Nomi Health, where those sites are and they either are, or will in the coming days, be activated as this additional allotments of vaccine arrive in our state.
So encouraging trends, an interesting moment as we crossed the one-year mark of this pandemic and many of the measures, the first case, the first admission. Soon, we'll also unfortunately celebrate the anniversary of our first death from coronavirus. The impact on our community has been harsh and severe, but as I've pointed out, we've come together, we do have the virus receding right now, and all hands are on deck trying to get as much vaccine and get it administered to members of our community as quickly as possible. For those of you who get your healthcare at University of Utah Health, please, if you haven't already, register or sign in to the MyChart application, the patient portal, where we have an evolving section for not only testing, but also vaccines, and invitations for vaccine by priority group will go out through MyChart.
If you don't have MyChart, we'll also telephone, text, and email. We will reach out multiple ways. When your group is called for a vaccination, we'll make sure we get the invitation to you. In the meantime, while we vaccinate, please continue with masking, hand sanitation, physical distancing, and staying away from others when you are ill. If we make continued progress, we'll be back next week, hopefully to report additional progress as far as the disease COVID-19, and especially about the ever-increasing vaccination program. Have a good week.
Michael Good, MD
Michael Good is CEO of University of Utah Health, Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and A. Lorris Betz Senior Vice President for Health Sciences. A professor of anesthesiology, Good joined U of U Health after more than three decades of teaching, innovation, and leadership at the University of Florida, where he served as dean of the College of Medicine for 10 years.