SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s COVID-19 infection rate shows no sign of slowing down ahead of Thanksgiving, community and business leaders on Tuesday pleaded with residents to work to protect themselves and others by wearing masks and following other health guidelines.
“The cavalry’s not coming. We are the cavalry, and we can change the tide of this disease,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare.
Harrison joined Gail Miller, of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith, and Deseret Management Corp. CEO Keith McMullin for a news conference announcing a new campaign encouraging everyone to be “All In” in fighting the disease spread. The campaign will air across all media platforms.
Utah health officials, meanwhile, reported 3,178 additional COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, as well as nine more deaths, and a record 512 current coronavirus hospitalizations.
The rolling seven-day average for new cases is now 3,057 per day; the average positive test rate is 24.4%.
Utah has been touted as having a low death rate due to the disease — 0.46% of confirmed cases. But, Harrison noted that the more than 700 people who have died “all have a story. They’re all real, and there are going to be (700 plus) empty seats around Thanksgiving tables.”
He said a 49-year-old newborn intensive care unit nurse at Intermountain recently died with COVID-19.
“And as she died alone — just as everyone with COVID dies alone because of quarantine restrictions — she was cared for by her friends. And I will tell you that her colleagues in the newborn ICU are devastated and miss her,” Harrison said, as well as her husband and kids who “miss her terribly.”
Although Utah’s health care workers are exhausted after dealing with the disease for months, “they’re up to the task,” Harrison said. They’re more frustrated, however, by those who don’t take COVID-19 seriously.
Residents, he said, need to be “health care heroes as well” as they can “turn the tide of this pandemic.”
McMullin likened this era to another important period in the state’s history.
“This is a momentous time. I can’t help but think about 1847 when the pioneers entered this valley. They came singly, but they also came together,” McMullin said.
“When they crested the mountains to the east of us and said, ‘This is the right place,’ they knew that they had accomplished something wonderful. Then they moved forward in that same spirit,” he said, asking residents to do the same in overcoming the virus.
“I am greatly concerned by the trends of this COVID-19 virus in our midst in Utah and across the nation. But I have great faith in this country, and I have absolute faith in this state and its people,” McMullin said.
“Let’s unite and move forward. Let’s together make a miracle happen.”
Each of the community leaders described how they’ve been personally impacted by the pandemic, missing out on things like graduations and time with grandchildren.
“A lot of us are dealing with loneliness and isolation, but others are missing out on some of the biggest events of their lives. I know weddings have had plans that had to be changed, family births and family baptisms, family gatherings, graduations, all of those things have been altered. I think we just want and need to feel a sense of normalcy,” Miller said.
“We’re not out of the woods. We’re by far a long ways out of the woods,” she said.
“I know that we’re all COVID-weary, but it’s more important than ever for us to be diligent and mindful of all the things that we can do to stop the spread,” Miller said, noting Utah’s industriousness “strong history of pulling together” and asking for residents to be mindful of their loved ones this season.
This year, Miller’s family will gather in “much smaller household groups” for the holidays and will create memories through virtual calls.
“We have to remember those who are also alone, and take extra precautions for those who are without much human contact. We have an opportunity to serve them through innovative ways and show our love and concern, and help to uplift them during this time,” she said.
Focusing on the economic aspects of the pandemic, Smith said: “It has nothing to do with politics. We need to wear mask, and we need to be safe.”
He said he and his family had the disease, and “it floored me.”
“I absolutely respect it, and everyone else should. ... And I think that we have front-line workers out there who are giving everything they have. That’s really all we have, and so out of respect for them, wherever you need to find your reason or your why … being safe and having our economy thrive are not mutually exclusive. Those actually need to be done, and the only way our economy’s going to thrive is if we’re healthy,” Smith said.
Infection rate model
University of Utah researchers announced Tuesday that they have created an “advanced” model using data they gathered during the HERO Project, a statewide randomized testing effort through which 21,000 residents were tested for active COVID-19 infection and antibodies.
Using that data, the researchers say they are now able to predict spikes in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. before they occur and create real-time estimates in each state of total prevalence of the virus including asymptomatic cases.
The data can be viewed on an interactive map on the Eccles School of Business website. The chart shows active coronavirus cases per 100,000 people for each state versus estimated active infections that include asymptomatic and unconfirmed cases.
While some attribute blame for Utah’s rising cases on increased testing, the data shows that there are likely many more asymptomatic cases that aren’t getting identified.
In Utah on Sunday — the latest day with available data — there were 1,545 active cases per 100,000 people reported. But the researchers estimate there were actually about 2,138 active infections per 100,000 people that day including asymptomatic/unconfirmed infections.
“These estimates suggest the true nationwide prevalence of COVID-19 is two to three times higher than reported case numbers, but that there is wide variation across states. In Utah, the state managed to capture about 40% of COVID-19 cases through nonrandom testing. In Texas, the authors estimate the state has managed to capture only 23% of cases,” researchers said.
The data shows that the U.S. “is still very far from herd immunity,” according to the researchers. Case estimates “suggest this approach would be disastrous,” they said, as achieving herd immunity would result in 26,000 more hospitalizations and 3,200 more deaths in Utah based on the state’s current rates.
New COVID-19 data
Tuesday’s 3,178 cases were confirmed out of 11,342 people tested, with a 28% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health.
On Tuesday, 512 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus, which is nine more than were hospitalized the previous day. ICUs across the state were 86.7% full overall, and referral ICUs that can treat more serious patients were 91.7% full.
To date, 158,957 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed out of 1,265,600 people tested in Utah, a 12.6% positive rate. At least 107,000 are now considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses. Hospitalizations since the pandemic began now total 6,988 in Utah.
The deaths reported Tuesday bring the state’s toll to 732. They were: a Salt Lake County man and woman, both of whom were older than 85 and long-term care residents; and a Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 65 and 84, who was not hospitalized when she died.
Two Utah County men who were long-term care residents also died, one of whom was older than 85 and one who was between 65 and 84; as well as a Washington County man between 65 and 84, another long-term care resident; a Weber County man and Juab County man, both of whom were between 65 and 84 and hospitalized when they died; and a Beaver County woman older than 85.