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Amid record numbers of new COVID-19 cases, Utah health officials on Tuesday drastically limited eligibility requirements to access the state’s dwindling supply of monoclonal antibody treatments and other antiviral drugs that are used to treat patients after they’ve been infected.
Given the “extreme scarcity of COVID-19 treatments” due to the rapidly spreading omicron variant, “we are re-evaluating” the risk level a patient needs to qualify for the popular treatments, the Utah Department of Health announced Tuesday in a news statement.
A record 9,813 new coronavirus cases were reported in Utah in the past day, the health department announced Tuesday.
Monoclonal antibodies, as well as a new Pfizer antiviral drug, have proven successful at reducing coronavirus symptoms if administered shortly after infection. The treatments have been especially popular in areas with low vaccination rates.
Utah has long been screening patients for risk factors that make them especially vulnerable to serious COVID-19 symptoms, to ensure the state’s already-limited supply goes to those who stand to benefit most from the treatments.
But now, the available supply of such treatments is far less than what it was only a month ago, health officials said last week. That’s in part because, of the three versions of monoclonal antibodies that had been available, only one is effective against the omicron variant. That treatment has been in short supply as the highly-transmissible omicron variant infects more and more high-risk patients.
This week, Utah was able to order fewer than 800 courses of monoclonal antibodies and Paxalovid, the new Pfizer antiviral. That’s somewhat more than last week, when the state received fewer than 500 courses — but nowhere near the 1,300 the state was ordering about a month ago.
Stricter criteria for limited treatments
A few groups of Utahns automatically qualify for the treatments if they are infected because their risk levels are so high: residents in long-term care facilities, unvaccinated pregnant people, and patients with severe immunocompromising conditions.
But the number of nursing home residents with active COVID-19 cases is already at 200 and may be far higher than that, according to UDOH data. Many more pregnant and immunocompromised Utahns are being infected each week, health officials have said.
That means there aren’t enough courses of the treatments for everyone else who previously qualified, according to a “risk calculator” that scores patients according to their risk of serious illness from COVID-19, with points given for age, sex, being part of a high-risk racial or ethnic group, and certain medical conditions.
While the criteria for such points hasn’t changed, the number of points required has. Now, unvaccinated patients, who previously needed a score of 5 to receive the treatments will need a score of 7.5, UDOH announced. For vaccinated patients, who are at lower risk of needing hospital care, the threshold score has risen from 8.5 to 10.
Previously, for example, any unvaccinated man older than 30 with a body mass index over 30 (say, a 6-foot man weighing 225 pounds) would have been eligible. Now, that same man would have to have multiple medical conditions or be decades older to qualify.
And previously, for example, a vaccinated, white woman 80 or older suffering from diabetes and obesity would have qualified. Now, that same woman would need multiple other medical conditions to be considered eligible.
Patients can find out whether they currently qualify for the treatments by visiting the state’s coronavirus website.
Cases continue to rise
Tuesday marked the third day recently where daily new cases exceeded 9,000. Before last week, the highest number of new cases reported in a single day was 4,207, announced more than a year ago, on Dec. 30. 2020.
The rolling seven-day average of new positive cases continues to climb, now at 8,524 — the highest it has been since the pandemic began. Before last week, the highest that figure had ever been was 3,392, reported on Nov. 22, 2020.
Hospitalizations continue to climb, with 579 Utahns concurrently hospitalized with the coronavirus — putting Tuesday’s patient count in the top 3% of the pandemic. ICU patient counts were lower, with 178 Utahns with COVID-19 requiring intensive care.
ICUs in Utah’s larger, “referral” hospitals were at 88% capacity, down from Monday’s 96% but still above the 85% threshold that hospital administrators have said is necessary to leave room for shifting staff levels, new patients and availability of specialized equipment and personnel.
The health department on Tuesday also reported 15 more COVID-19 deaths, three of which occurred before Dec. 11, officials advised.
The number of children getting vaccinated continues to climb: 104,217 children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose since they became eligible. That is 28.6% of kids that age in Utah, according to the health department. And 72,329 of those kids have been fully vaccinated — 19.8% of that age group.
Find where to get vaccinated at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.
Find where to get tested at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations.
Breakdown of updated figures
Vaccine doses administered in the past day/total doses administered • 11,321 / 4,659,643.
Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,920,838 — 58.7% of Utah’s total population.
Cases reported in the past day • 9,813.
Cases among school-age children • Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 2,012 of the new cases announced Tuesday — 20.5% of the total. There were 680 cases reported in children aged 5-10; 423 cases in children 11-13; and 909 cases in children 14-18.
Vaccination status • Health officials do not immediately have or release the vaccination status of individuals who test positive, who are hospitalized, or who die. They do calculate the overall risk ratios of these outcomes depending on vaccination status, which is listed below.
Tests reported in the past day • 22,727 people were tested for the first time. A total of 44,349 people were tested.
Deaths reported in the past day • 15. (UDOH did not indicate in its breakdown which deaths occurred before Dec. 11.)
Salt Lake County reported five deaths: two women ages 25 to 44; two women ages 65 to 84; and a man age 65 to 84.
Davis County reported three deaths, all women: one age 65 to 84, and two 85 or older.
Weber County also reported three deaths: two women — one age 45 to 64, the other age 65 to 84 — and a man who was 85 or older.
Utah County reported two deaths, a man and a woman both 85 or older.
A Tooele County man age 25 to 44 also died, as did a San Juan County man age 65 to 84.
Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 579. That is 38 more than reported on Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 178 are in intensive care — four fewer than reported on Monday.
Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 43% in the past day. That is higher than the seven-day average of 33.6%.
The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Tuesday’s rate was 22.1%, lower than the seven-day average of 23%.
Risk ratios • In the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns were 15.7 times as likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 7 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 1.9 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.
Totals to date • 715,996 cases; 3,922 deaths; 28,593 hospitalizations; 4,456,737 people tested.