(ABC4 News) — Health officials statewide asked Utahns to participate in COVID-19 friendly holiday gatherings this year in efforts to avoid a COVID-19 case surge. The holidays are now over and many are wondering what’s around the corner.
The start of 2021 has brought on different feelings than new years usually do. Yes, there have been feelings of hope and improvement, but this year, those feelings are accompanied by feelings of uncertainty and caution.
Many families weren’t able to gather this season, beloved traditions were missed with new ones made. Even though the year felt different to most, all the changes were made with true intentions of keeping health and safety for loved ones in mind amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
The holiday buzz has simmered down, time off from work and school has ended and Uthans are beginning to settle back into what is now the new normal. As things begin to pick back up officials with the Utah Department of Health say they are worried, watching, and waiting.
“We are watching the data very closely as there is concern not only here in Utah, but across the country for another post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases,” Jenny Johnson Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Health tells ABC4 News.
Johnson says those who traveled over the holidays or visited with anyone outside of their household should assume they have been exposed.
“If you traveled over the holidays or visited with people outside of your own household, assume that you may have been exposed and please limit your interactions with others,” Johnson says.
Those who have been exposed are asked to quarantine, wait seven days after the exposure date, and get tested for COVID-19.
Previous to the holidays, Utah health and public officials asked Utahns to please limit their social gatherings.
“A reminder to Utahns for the upcoming holiday: We’re asking that you gather only with those in your immediate household. The safest gathering is with those you live with,” Utah’s former Gov. Gary Herbert shared leading up to the holidays. “We cannot beat COVID if we celebrate the holidays as we normally do.”
Now, weeks following the holidays, officials say they “are watching things very closely right now” worried about an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The Utah Health Department encourages people who feel sick or have any COVID-19 like symptoms to get tested, even if symptoms are mild.
“There are free testing locations across the state. Stay home until you get your test results. If your test result is negative, keep limiting your interactions with others for a full 10 days after your travel or visit,” Johnson says.
Those who test positive are asked to isolate at home for at least 10 days from symptom onset or the day you were tested. Isolating can help protect our already strained hospitals and healthcare workers in the coming days and weeks, the Utah Health Department shares.
With the holiday season over, Intermountain Healthcare clinicians say they are concerned about a spike in COVID-19 cases and the potential impact on ICU volumes at hospitals throughout the state.
Dr. Todd Vento with Intermountain Healthcare says the state has not yet seen the full effect of the holidays. He says the state will likely see the full effects of gatherings and the winter holidays in the next few weeks, mid to late January.
After this point is when the state will begin to see the hospital and death trends from the potential surge.
“We are anticipating that there will be an increase in numbers of hospitalizations and cases,” Dr. Vento says.
Based on the previous 2020 holidays, Dr. Vento says they did see hospitalizations rise.
“We generally have more concern about a holiday and a time period like the end of December,” shares Dr. Veto.
He says the December holiday poses more risk due to “prolonged exposure.” Many people tend to gather several times between Christmas and New Year’s.
“That makes us more concerned about the risk, you’ve essentially given yourself more and more opportunity to hang out with the virus..it’s just probability.”
Dr. Vento says they are concerned for a bigger, negative surge on hospitals throughout the next four weeks.
Intermountain Health officials say what’s so alarming is hospitalization numbers were starting to go down before the holidays. Now they worry they could rise significantly in the first weeks of 2021.
The Utah Health Department is asking all Utahns to “continue to make small sacrifices now.” With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout speeding up, there is “hope of brighter days ahead.”
Until every Utahn has the chance to be immunized, Johnson says everyone is encouraged to “wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth anytime you are in public or around someone you don’t live with. Physical distance as much as possible. Only gather with the people you live with. Wash your hands often. And stay home if you are sick, test positive, or have been exposed to COVID-19.”
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