SALT LAKE CITY — The Friday before the holiday season officially begins brought grim, record-breaking news about the state’s COVID-19 cases.
Utah smashed yet another daily record with 2,292 new positive cases. That number is 332 more than the previous record high of 1,960 just a week ago on Oct. 23.
The high number led officials to take the unusual step of issuing a statewide text over the Amber Alert system.
And Friday’s numbers also set a new record high in positive rate with a seven-day average of 18.2%.
Another three deaths were also reported, including a Salt Lake County man between the ages of 25 and 44; a Tooele County man between the ages of 44 and 65; and a Davis County woman between the ages of 65 and 84. The men were hospitalized at the time of their deaths. The woman lived in a long-term care facility.
That brings the total number of Utahns lost to COVID-19 to 601.
“While it is true that Utah’s COVID-19 mortality rate is substantially lower than the national rate, we must not become numb to what these numbers mean for our communities — for those infected, for everyone who loves them,” said Gov. Gary Herbert in an emailed statement. “Assuming a 5 percent hospitalization rate, and a 0.5 percent fatality rate, we would see 115 hospitalizations and 11 deaths, just from the nearly 2,300 cases we are announcing today. This will cause increasing strain on our already overworked medical professionals, and leave even more families with an empty chair at their dinner table. And that is to say nothing of the long-term effects many more of these Utahns will face, even as they recover. We cannot be too cautious in our efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
In an unusual move, the Department of Public Safety used the state’s Amber Alert system to send out a warning about the state’s dire COVID-19 situation.
“Despite the ongoing pandemic, there are a number of people who are not aware of the dire situation we find ourselves in,” a press release from public safety officials said. “Today before 2 p.m., we will issue a single Wireless Emergency Alert statewide as a brief interruption to make sure nearly everyone is aware of the serious nature of the pandemic.”
The alert directed people to the state’s website coronavirus.utah.gov, and said “Social gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer.” Officials reported that shortly after the alert, the website crashed, likely do to an influx of traffic.
It also appears that despite near daily pleas from elected leaders, Utahns opposed to masks are not heeding the advice — or recent mandates — to wear them in public.
Anti-mask protesters targeted state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn in two separate protests outside her Salt Lake home Thursday, but she wasn’t the only one. A group of about 25 protesters stood outside the Springville home of Dr. Joseph Miner, the director of the Utah Department of Health, Thursday night. Miner, however, took a leave of absence in March, and currently Rich Saunders is the acting director.
Britney Liberté organized the protest in front of Miner’s house Thursday night, and unlike those who organized the protest of Dunn’s home, she didn’t publish Miner’s address on Facebook. She shared a meme using a photo of Miner with Gov. Gary Herbert, but asked those interested to send her a message for location and details.
She shared a video on YouTube Friday, saying she approached a number of media outlets but none of them were interested in covering it. In the video she said neighbors were unhappy with them, but police were not summoned as they were to Dunn’s Avenues neighborhood.
Unified police are also investigating vandalism at the Utah Department of Health offices in Millcreek. Someone shot windows, shattering several and leaving holes in others, with what appears to be a pellet gun at the department’s Highland center, 3760 S. Highland Drive, according to spokeswoman Charla Haley.
“We can confirm a glass door was shot out by a pellet gun,” Haley said in a statement. “No one entered the building. Nothing was taken and no one was injured. There was no additional vandalism. It’s unclear what, if any, relation there is between this incident and recent protests at the homes of public health officials.”
Health officials reported Friday that there were 318 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah as hospital officials continued pleading with residents to try and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by changing how they celebrate the upcoming holidays.
“You each have a choice to make as well,” Dr. Mark Shah, of Intermountain Healthcare, said Thursday, “to unify around this mission. We can continue to argue and disagree about lots of things — politics and sports, (the) upcoming election. We cannot continue arguing about masking. We cannot continue to argue about whether this pandemic is real or made up. And we cannot continue to argue that health care will do just fine regardless of the demand. That is not true.”
The University of Phoenix released a new survey Friday that said nurses are struggling with fatigue and frustration as the pandemic stretches into its ninth month.
Among those findings, nurses reported feeling exhausted (65%), fearful (49%), underappreciated (36%), depressed (30%), expendable (24%) and underutilized (8%). About one-third said the number of hours they work has increased, primarily due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients.
“Let’s unite around this shared mission,” Shah said. “Let’s do what we can. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s strange. Yes, our Halloween activities this weekend will need to be altered. But they can still be enjoyable. Kids are resilient. We are resilient.”
That’s what Shelly McDonald Taylor hopes as she and her family try to celebrate Halloween in new ways. She and her sons plan to dress up and head out into the wild on UTVs and communicate with walkie talkies.
Another mom said several of her friends were planning scavenger hunts with their own families, and she pointed out there are a number of kits for sale online.
Officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned families about the risks of ignoring public health warnings, especially when it comes to gathering for holidays, saying there could be dire consequences. The CDC also warned against family gatherings, especially those that bring relatives from various cities or states and don’t include masks and social distancing.
“You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering,” Fauci said of Thanksgiving gatherings this year as daily new cases continue to rise in the U.S. There are upward of 70,000 new cases each day in the United States and nearly 1,000 deaths per day. In 47 states, including Utah, cases or positive rates are on the rise.
The Utah State Prison in Draper announced Friday evening that it was in a code-red lockdown for at least the next 24 hours, citing a possible second outbreak.
Earlier in the day, two inmates who had reported experiencing symptoms tested positive for the virus, one in the prison’s Oquirrh 5 building and another in a Promontory Facility, according to a statement by the Utah Department of Corrections.
The prison immediately initiated containment protocols.
“We are deeply concerned about this latest outbreak,” the release stated. “Oquirrh 5 is where our most medically vulnerable incarcerated individuals reside and it’s where we’ve taken the greatest precautions since the beginning of the pandemic to keep them safe.”
“Our Promontory Facility is dormitory-style housing, which means that exposure may be significant by the time the first case is confirmed.”
Friday’s positive tests followed two negative rapid-tests Thursday night in Oquirrh 5, after two inmates reported symptoms.
Prison officials announced plans to test the entire population of the prison, starting in the Oquirrh and Promontory facilities.
No incarcerated individuals were experiencing “significant symptoms” as of Friday evening, according to the release.
The agency canceled a scheduled COVID-19 briefing with the media in order to address the spread.
“We ask for your patience as we begin containment processes, which include isolating confirmed individuals, contact tracing and mass testing,” the Utah Department of Corrections said in a Facebook post.
A total of 306 inmates in Draper tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday, when the prison last updated figures on its website. Just under 60 inmates were deemed to have recovered and more than 2,000 tested negative, according to the prison. A total of about 4,500 inmates, both men and women, are incarcerated there.
The prison’s Gunnison site has confirmed just one case, and that inmate has recovered, according to the department.
The Lantern House, a homeless shelter in Ogden, also experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 during the past week, representatives announced late Friday.
Mass testing was performed at the shelter Friday, with over 220 tests administered, according to John D. Patterson, Lantern House board chairman. There were 48 positive tests, including 37 single men, nine single women, and one single mother with her child. Only 10% of those who tested positive were symptomatic.
Two people who had tested positive died during the week, including a senior male resident and the single mother, according to Patterson. Her child was placed with next of kin. Though both individuals had the virus, the causes of their deaths are under review, he said.
Contributing: Annie Knox, Daedan Olander