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Utah doctors ask people to double down after UK variant found

Posted at 4:27 PM, Feb 02, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Three Utahns have tested positive for the U.K. COVID-19 variant, health officials confirmed.

“The U.K. variant is known to be, thought to be, more transmissible so more easily transmitted from person to person and it is not clear whether or not if it causes more severe disease,” Dr. Bert Lopansari with Intermountain Healthcare said.

While Utah is seeing a positive trend in COVID-19 cases, Dr. Lopansari says now is not the time to relax.

“Viruses, like every living thing, want to survive," he said. "And when given the opportunity the viruses will adapt and change in order to survive.”

READ: Health Dept.: 1,201 more COVID-19 cases in Utah; 17 additional deaths

The U.K. variant that has been found in Utah is not the only COVID-19 variant out there, according to Dr. Andrew Pavia, Chief of Pediatric Disease at the University of Utah.

“The first thing to know about these new strains is that there are many of them. The virus is changing as it goes forward and what it is doing is it is becoming more transmissible,” he said.

READ: Is a cloth mask enough? Dr. Fauci says it’s ‘common sense’ 2 masks work better than 1

Dr. Pavia warned a more transmissible virus means it is going to be harder to keep it under control.

“We have to be more careful about wearing masks, about social distancing, about avoiding large gatherings until everyone is vaccinated or a large portion of the population is vaccinated,” he said.

Lisa O’Brien says the thought of a more contagious strain of the virus is concerning. Eleven months ago, she started having symptoms of COVID-19. O’Brien is a COVID-19 longhauler and started a Facebook group for longhaulers in Utah.

“There’s going to be more longhaulers and so I worry about that. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through for the last 11 months. It is no way to live,” she said. “The last thing we want to do is get it again and go through what we’ve gone through all over."

READ: Intermountain Healthcare processes 1 million COVID-19 tests

Don’t fool yourself, Dr. Pavia says, just because someone hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19 this far into the pandemic doesn’t mean they have the antibodies.

“Every day we have people coming in who say, ‘I have been so good until now, I thought I was protected and now I’m sick with COVID,’” he said.

While recovering from COVID-19 does give people a layer of protection, it is unclear just how long the immunity lasts, Dr. Pavia said.

“The people most likely to get reinfected either had very mild disease or they came in contact with one of these new strains,” he said.

The good news, Dr. Pavia said, is that masks seem to be effective in preventing the transmission of the new COVID-19 variants.

“It makes sense for you to make sure you have a well-fitting multi-layer mask, he said. "The best form of double masking if you ask me, is you wear a mask and I wear a mask,”

For the latest information on COVID-19 in Utah, click here.