SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 reached a new record of nearly 300 on Saturday, and University of Utah Health officials are warning that the hospital system is already surpassing its capacity.

On Friday, the health care system’s intensive care units were 104% full, said Dr. Russell Vinik, University of Utah Health chief medical operations officer. On Wednesday, U. Health officials had opened up a “surge ICU” to handle extra patients, he said.

That required doctors, nurses, and other providers to take on extra shifts. To be able to treat as many patients as possible, the health care system has also postponed many surgeries and has had to divert some patients to other hospitals.

“And we’re fortunate right now that we’re able to staff all of our regular beds plus our surge beds,” he said.

But those providers are also facing increased infection rates.

“We have seen about a threefold increase in sickness in our workforce over the past month as you would expect with the increase in the community. But we’re still able to (go beyond normal staffing), and I think we’re well equipped to deal with a sharp surge.

“What we’re not equipped to deal with is a long, prolonged surge and that’s what we’re mostly worried about because unless behaviors change, that’s likely what we are going to face,” Vinik told the Deseret News.

Overnight Saturday, intensive care usage at the hospital fell back to 94%, he said, but some patients remained in the surge unit. “So it’s a little bit better, but the overall trend is going up, and there’s always ebbs and flows,” Vinik said.

“We can only do so much, and we indeed need the public’s help to — particularly as it gets colder outside — avoid those large gatherings that would normally be inside in the winter. And that’s true for family gatherings, particularly as we start making plans for Thanksgiving and other holidays. Those types of gatherings could really push us over the edge,” Vinik said.

On Saturday, current hospitalizations statewide reached 298 — the highest number since the start of the pandemic. Saturday also marked another big day for new coronavirus cases as Utah health officials reported an increase of 1,340 cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now 1,222 per day while the rolling seven-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 14%.

The deaths reported Saturday bring the state’s toll to 540. They were: a Davis County man older than 85 who was not hospitalized when he died; a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was a long-term care resident; and a Carbon County man between 65-84, who was hospitalized when he died.

Now 93,297 cases have been confirmed in Utah of 966,451 people tested since the outbreak hit, a 9.7% positive rate. About 69,100 cases are considered recovered after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses.

New COVID-19 cases reported Saturday by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 582
  • Utah County, 294
  • Davis County, 127
  • Southwest Utah, 92
  • Weber-Morgan, 78
  • Bear River, 73
  • Central Utah, 42
  • Tooele County, 20
  • Summit County, 9
  • San Juan County, 8
  • Southeast Utah, 8
  • Wasatch County, 4
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 3