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A year later, Utah health experts say we're not quite out of the COVID-19 woods yet

Posted at 5:48 PM, Mar 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-06 22:23:04-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Exactly one year ago, then-Governor Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, Utah has had over 374,000 cases and close to 2,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Dr. Jay Jacobson, an emeritus professor of infectious disease and medical ethics at the University of Utah's school of medicine, said now is the perfect time to celebrate the progress we've made, and also to reflect on the lessons learned.

"I think we've been assessing this epidemic literally every day," Jacobson said. "But thinking about it from an annual perspective, we have learned a lot, we have discovered a lot, and we've accomplished a lot."

He adds that quarantining is one area we could have improved on in the early days of the pandemic.

"Quarantine is an effective measure not applied very often in the contemporary world," he said. "In retrospect, we erred in that."

READ: Utah businesses celebrate move back to full capacity

The second and most serious mistake, according to Jacobson, was the rollout of coronavirus testing both nationally and here in Utah.

"The fact that we didn't use tests to sample the entire population and get a clear picture, particularly of this disease where many infections are asymptomatic, really caused us all to underestimate its significance," he added.

Jacobson said one area to be proud of is the development of several effective treatment options for COVID-19. He referenced the use of Remdesivir early on in the pandemic, as well as corticosteroids and the monumental achievement of developing three vaccines to combat the virus.

"Having all of those are actually wonderful tools that prevent what we most fear in this disease, which is serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths," he added.

For Lisa O'Brien, founder of the Utah COVID-19 Long Haulers group, the anniversary is bittersweet. O'Brien was diagnosed with COVID-19 one year ago and is still suffering from lingering side effects.

READ: Long-haulers look for help; U of U plans to add ‘post-COVID-19 clinic’

"I've gotten better over the course of the year, but I'm not 100%," O'Brien said. "There is so many of us that are still, you know, having even slight lingering issues, and it's changed our lives."

With state legislators recently approving what they call coronavirus "end-game" legislation, that would in part lift the statewide mask mandate on April 10, O'Brien fears a resurgence of cases and more people suffering from the long-term effects of the virus.

"There's still just a lot that we don't know," she said. "So, I think that we still need to be really cautious as we move forward, and, you know, think about removing these mandates."

"I think the last thing we want to drop is masking in risky situations," Jacobson added. "It's so easy to continue that, that it shouldn't be a problem."

Jacobson said even with the mass rollout of vaccines and the loosening of health safety guidelines, it is still important for people to wear masks and limit social gatherings until herd immunity is reached and transmission rates drop "below five, or even two percent."

READ: Vaccines available to Utahns 50+; more counties move to 'moderate' level