5 risk factors for COVID-19 to know as cases surge

Utah’s recent COVID-19 surge continues, with 5,611 new cases and a dozen additional deaths reported over the past week by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services Thursday.

The latest weekly update also showed that the average daily case count increased by more than 25% from the previous week. The seven-day percent positivity for tests is now nearly 23% when excluding the results of multiple tests from a person, an increase of more than 18% from the previous week.

More people are being diagnosed with COVID-19 during emergency room visits, while the number of people in Utah hospitalized for the virus rose by 139 this week and the seven-day average for new hospitalizations for the virus increased by almost 10%.

“COVID is here to stay. We have to learn to find our way in this new environment,” said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare, told reporters during a virtual news conference last week after confirming the state was seeing another surge.

“At this point, one of the most important parts of our strategy for living with COVID in its ebb and flow is personalized or individualized risk mitigation,” Webb said. “People need to understand their risk. They have to understand the risk of those around them.”

Then, the doctor said, “they need to make both preparation and prevention” a part of how they deal with the virus.

He said there are five factors that determine risk:

  • Immunity. Getting vaccinated and boosted against the virus “remains a critical part of safely acquiring immunity at both the individual and population levels,” Webb said, while COVID-19 also “feeds into your overall immunity.”
  • Age. The virus has hit older people much harder and is a “big part of the risk,” he said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 81% of the country’s COVID-19 deaths are in people over the age of 65.
  • Health. General health and a range of medical conditions also play an important role in determining who becomes critically ill with the virus, Webb said. The CDC list includes cancer and other diseases that weaken the immune system, as well as obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, heart disease and pregnancy.
  • Behavior. What activities people choose is also crucial, as is people’s behavior. Experts have recommended that during COVID-19 waves, people consider wearing masks, staying away from large indoor crowds and testing themselves before gathering with others indoors.
  • Frequency. How much COVID-19 is out there at any given time is the final consideration in determining risk, Webb said, warning that despite the effects of increased immunity, there are still severe cases that require hospitalization and death being able to lead.

Utahns need to “be able to move around and use the tools that we have. We must protect those who are vulnerable,” the doctor said, particularly through vaccination. “Even though we’re sick of COVID, we’re not sticking our heads in the sand. We continue to make good decisions as individuals and as a community.”

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