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Utah reports 7th straight day with over 2,000 new COVID-19 cases

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Health care workers treat COVID-19 patients at the University of Utah Hospital Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020.

Charlie Ehlert, University of Utah Health

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials reported another 2,517 COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths on Tuesday, marking the seventh day in a row with more than 2,000 new cases confirmed in the Beehive State.

The cases were reported out of 12,826 people tested, a 19.6% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is now 2,554 per day, and the average positive test rate is 21.9%.

Currently, 435 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, nine fewer than were hospitalized on Monday. The state’s intensive care units are 76.1% full overall, but hospital leaders noted this week that many of the state’s 16 “referral” hospitals, which can treat the most serious COVID-19 patients, are full or nearly full.

Utah’s rate of disease over the last week, meanwhile, remained in the top 10 highest in the nation on Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although it fell one place since last week from eighth to ninth highest.

In the last seven days, 72.8 cases have been confirmed per 100,000 people in Utah, the CDC says. That compares to the national average of 33 cases per 100,000 people.

On Monday, orders by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health went into effect requiring everyone in the state to wear masks in public or when within 6 feet of those from other households, restricting casual social gatherings between members of separate households, and halting most extracurricular activities for students.

Health care leaders on Monday said that even after the two-week order ends, Utahns will need to remain vigilant.

As the holiday season ensues, residents should plan to continue wearing masks and to “maintain masking in your home when you are having gatherings, to keep those gatherings at a reasonable size. And if you have friends and neighbors, and even family members, who do not live among you, please, please wear your masks at that time,” Dr. Tom Miller, University of Utah Health chief medical officer, said.

“We can shut this down,” he said of the surge.

The current demand on the health care system is unsustainable, leaders reiterated.

“Our nurses, all of our health care workers, are exhausted both physically and emotionally. They have been caring for our COVID patients since the spring. This is definitely a marathon, not a sprint, but this current rate and the current hospitalizations that we are seeing, it is unsustainable for our health care systems across the state,” said Tracey Nixon, U. Health chief nursing officer.

She said the disease is impacting the ability to staff hospitals, as health care workers are affected by community spread.

“We’re starting to see the impact of our staff not being available to work because of COVID, and that makes our challenge to care for the increased volume of patients even that much harder. They are working extra shifts, they are working longer shifts, they are working in areas they have never practiced before and in areas that are not typically in patient care areas,” Nixon said.

“I plead with our community to follow the mandate. Mask. Make the hard decisions and the hard choices today so we can keep our community and one another safe.”

Although the total ICU usage has lingered in the mid-70% range recently, there’s a “disconnect” between that percentage released by the state and the situation faced by health care workers, as “that number is this entire number of ICU beds across the state, in facilities that are very small to facilities that are Level 1 and Level 2 trauma centers,” said Dr. Mark Briesacher, Intermountain Healthcare chief physician executive.

“And our biggest hospitals in the Intermountain system, we’re 90% full in our ICUs. And furthermore, and complicating this all is the fact that ... having the bed is one thing, but our work force has been affected by this just as the community has,” Briesacher said.

“We’re committed to be there for you when you need it. We are on a path that is going to make that increasingly, increasingly difficult.”

He said he looks at the number of coronavirus deaths Utah is confirming each day as a gauge of how that state is doing.

“Now it’s seven, 10, 15. For all of us, that’s just not OK,” Briesacher said.

The Utah Public Health Association on Tuesday also pleaded with residents to follow the new health orders.

“As hospitalization rates have climbed by 40% in the past 10 days, putting increased pressure on already strained clinicians and public health workers, it is imperative that we try a new approach to reduce the spread of the virus. This strategy will require that Utahns do their part and use the tools in their tool box to limit contact with people outside of their immediate households,” the association said in a statement.  

“We continue to support and encourage personal responsibility in following the new guidelines but also encourage looking at tackling COVID-19 as a team sport. Wearing masks, taking a two-week break from social gatherings and limiting extracurricular activities are the parts we can play to help our team succeed as quickly as possible. When we do this, we are helping our teammates do their jobs to the best of their abilities,” the association said.

The Utah Department of Health explained Tuesday that the Utah Health Guidance Levelswebpage that provided information about county-by-county COVID-19 transmission levels and restrictions has been temporarily removed due to the new public health mandates.

The transmission index will return after the governor’s emergency order ends in two weeks on Nov. 23, a spokesman with the health department said. But the statewide public mask mandate will continue until further notice, the governor said.

New cases

So far during the pandemic, 137,385 people in Utah have tested positive for COVID-19 out of 1,180,749 people tested, with an overall positive rate of 11.6%. Hospitalizations since the beginning of the outbreak total 6,284.

While testing numbers have continued increasing — and the state plans to ramp up testing to between 20,000 to 30,000 each day — the positive rate also continues rising, meaning there are many unidentified cases in the community, Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, said Monday.

University of Utah Health officials announced Tuesday the system is moving coronavirus testing indoors due to the decreasing temperatures. The switch to saliva testing instead of nasal swab allows the system to do so safely, as saliva tests do not generate aerosolized particles, officials said in a statement. Testing remains by appointment only.

The deaths reported Tuesday bring the state’s toll to 672. The latest deaths include four Salt Lake County residents: a man and woman older than 85; a man between 25 and 44; and a man between 45 and 64, all of whom were hospitalized when they died. Two Wasatch County women between 65 and 84 also died, one of whom was hospitalized and the other whose hospitalization status was unknown.

Three Utah County men were also among the deaths, one of whom was between 45 and 64 and a long-term care resident; one was between 65 and 84 and not hospitalized when he died; and one older than 85 who was hospitalized when he died. A Davis County man and Washington County man, both between 65 and 84, also died while hospitalized.

New COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 964.
  • Utah County, 663.
  • Southwest Utah, 199.
  • Davis County, 196.
  • Weber-Morgan, 193.
  • Bear River, 86.
  • Tooele County, 59.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 43.
  • Southeast Utah, 41.
  • Central Utah, 28.
  • Summit County, 20.
  • Wasatch County, 20.
  • San Juan County, 5.