SALT LAKE CITY — Two of the nation’s top health officials met with Utah health leaders on Saturday to discuss strategies to curb the COVID-19 surge, according to a tweet by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Utah’s situation “remains critical,” Herbert wrote.

Record high numbers of new COVID-19 infections brought the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to University Hospital, where they heard about ongoing testing and mitigation efforts happening throughout Utah.

“The thing about this virus is that it moves quickly, and the good news is that it can move quickly in the direction of improvement,” Redfield told the group at the University of Utah Hospital on Saturday.

The two encouraged a new approach to testing at the University of Utah, where average case numbers have been lower than the surrounding Salt Lake County. Birx and Redfield said more frequent testing of key communities — students, health care workers, university staff and faculty — could help with tracing numbers back to the communities where they live.

“Now is the time to develop a strategic strategy in testing to maximize our ability to identify the silent epidemic of asymptomatic infections,” Redfield said.

Herbert indicated that social gatherings are the main source of COVID-19 spread in Utah. “Dr. Birx and Redfield confirmed this pattern is nationwide,” he said.

“Mask up, and protect your extended family and friends by celebrating tonight only with those you live with,” he said. “Because of this, committing not to socialize with people outside your household is the best thing you can do to stop the virus, protect our hospital capacity, and save lives.”

Herbert said that Redfield “confirmed that masks work.”

“Wear one anytime you are near someone who doesn’t live in your house. Many who are infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and never know they have the virus. Wearing a mask is a scientifically proven way to prevent additional infections,” he tweeted.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talks with University of Utah President Ruth Watkins and Dr. Michael Good, CEO of University of Utah Health and senior vice president for Health Sciences, during a meeting on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Redfield was in town with Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force. | Charlie Ehlert, University of Utah Health

Birx has been traveling the country observing how Americans are following public health recommendations intended to stem the spread of COVID-19. She meets with state and community leaders in closed-door gatherings. Press reports indicate she has been critical of conditions she has observed.

According to CNN, Birx has been to more than 40 states, with stops this week in the Mountain West, including Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The Utah Department of Health reported 1,724 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the state’s total number of infections resulting from the widespread virus to 114,656 positive cases. This was down from a record number of cases reported Friday at 2,292.

The rolling seven-day average number of daily positive tests is 1,638 per day.

Meanwhile, the rolling seven-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is now 18.4%, slightly up from 18.2% on Friday, according to health department data.

The health department announced another three deaths throughout the state, bringing the total number of lives lost to COVID-19 in Utah to 604.

The deaths included a Washington County man between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized at the time of his death; a Utah County woman between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized at the time of her death; and a Duchesne County man between 25 and 44. It was unknown if he was hospitalized at time of death.

A total of 1,081,823 Utahns have been tested for COVID-19, which includes 8,186 people tested Friday.

There are 317 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Total hospitalizations from the beginning of the outbreak are 5,463, according to the health department.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson dropped off treats to public and health care workers Saturday, a nod to the Halloween holiday but more so to thank them for their committed service to community health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilson also visited with workers administering COVID-19 tests at drive-thru location at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.

“I wanted to come because it’s Halloween, but I also wanted to come to thank them, because of the negative comments that have been made recently in the community,” she said.

Wilson said she told one worker that for every negative uttered, “there are thousands of us that believe in you, that thank you and appreciate you and that know that you are the heart of this movement for our community to be safe again and healthy again.”

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Wilson said recent events had been “heartbreaking,” both in terms of negative comments expressed against public health leaders and others waging the fight against coronavirus but worse, protests this past week outside the home of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.

“The people that have assembled here doing this work, do it day in and day out, and have a belief in the work that they’re doing. We need to honor them,” Wilson said.

Utah officials announced a record 2,292 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, Oct. 30. Twenty-three of the state’s 29 counties are designated as high transmission areas, where masks are required in public and whenever proper social distancing is not possible.

Others who attended the meeting with Birx and Redfield included University of Utah President Ruth Watkins, Dr. Michael Good, CEO at University of Utah Health, as well as other key physicians involved in Utah’s pandemic response.

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