SALT LAKE CITY — More than 1 million people in Utah have now been tested for COVID-19, a step that health officials have said is essential in tracking the spread of the disease.
The state has seen a slight downward trend in the past few days, but with a nearly 18% positivity rate, there could be many more cases of the novel coronavirus floating around the community unaccounted for.
On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 1,575 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total number of infections resulting from the widespread virus to 108,803.
The rolling seven-day average number of daily positive tests is 1,549 per day, 42 higher than Tuesday’s reported average, but lower than a week ago. The rolling seven-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 17.9%. It was 17.4% on Tuesday, according to the health department.
In all, there were 299 people hospitalized Wednesday with COVID-19 at Utah hospitals, up three from Tuesday’s numbers and more than double what it was on Sept. 1.
Hospitals throughout Utah have reported record capacity levels due to rampant spread of the disease, even stating that rationing care is inevitable. The state is also prepping to open the 243,000-square-foot Mountain America Exposition Center in Sandy as a temporary care center for the overflow of patients it expects as colder temperatures set in.
An increase of 7,364 people were tested since Tuesday and more than 1,052,059 people in Utah have been tested since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March.
Health care officials have said they’d like to be able to test everyone in order to get a better handle on COVID-19 and help stop the now-rampant spread throughout the state.
Testing and tracking to identify cases “is a key strategy to limiting the spread of disease in our communities,” the health department told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The show did a segment earlier this week on a group of northern Utah parents reportedly opting not to get their children tested for fear of schools and other elements of society closing again.
Emilie Daly, a write-in candidate for Davis County School Board, told ABC that “it’s not mandated to get tested ... it’s a choice.”
The alternative, she said, is that many seasonal illnesses are indistinguishable at this time of the year, meaning the risks of not testing may be too great.
There have been 588 deaths caused by COVID-19 in Utah, including another 10 deaths reported on Wednesday.
Those deaths include a Salt Lake County woman older than 85; another Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 65 and 84; and a Utah County woman between the ages of 65 and 84, all of whom were residents at long-term health care facilities when they died. Among people hospitalized when they died with COVID-19 are a Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 45 and 64; a Salt Lake County man between the ages of 65 and 84; two Weber County women, both between the ages of 65 and 84, and a Weber County man between the ages of 65 and 84.
It is unknown whether another two deaths occurred at Utah hospitals, including a Salt Lake County woman and a Millard County man, both between the ages of 65 and 84, the health department reports.
All but 14 of the U.S. states are experiencing high numbers of disease transmission, according to covidexitstrategy.org, which is compiling state and national data “to track each state’s progress toward stopping the spread of COVID-19,” according to the organization’s website.
Utah has one of the highest levels of positivity rates for the traditional PCR COVID-19 tests, which involves a collection of fluid from the nose or saliva to detect genetic material of the virus.
State data shows that Utah County cases are climbing more rapidly than other locations in the state, though surges are reported in 21 of 29 counties. All of those counties are also designated as high transmission rate counties, according to the COVID-19 Transmission Index, the state’s newest plan advising public health guidance.
The index indicates that masks are required in public in all counties where high transmission patterns are exhibited. Gathering sizes are also limited to no more than 10 people in high and moderate transmission counties through at least Oct. 29.
The index, according to the Utah Public Health Association, supports public health agencies and officials to remove any political influence on the decisions made to help stop the spread of infection.
“Hospital ICUs are near capacity, the health care and public health workforces are exhausted, and nearly 600 of our fellow Utahns have died,” the organization representing health care workers said on Wednesday. It calls for Utahns to adhere to recommended public health measures to “keep Utahns safe.”
“It is critical that Utahns wear masks, physically distance themselves in all gatherings and get tested, so that we can get through this crisis together,” said Paul Wightman, executive director of the Utah Public Health Association. “Let’s not blame or shame individuals. Instead, let’s adopt and enforce sound, evidence-based public policies to keep all Utahns safe and healthy.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said every Utahn has a part in the fight against further spread. He has said he has avoided mandating masks statewide, in hopes that Utahns will “make the right choice.”
A breakdown of new cases reported on Wednesday by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 703
- Utah County, 328
- Weber-Morgan, 126
- Davis County, 125
- Southwest Utah, 98
- Bear River, 48
- Central Utah, 32
- Tooele County, 28
- Southeast Utah, 22
- Summit County, 21
- Wasatch County, 21
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 12
- San Juan County, 11