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Herbert sets table for ‘not normal’ holiday as Utah breaks more COVID-19 records

Statewide mask mandate to remain in effect

Salt Lake County mobile testers gather information from people as they wait in long lines to get tested for COVID-19 at the county’s testing site in the Maverik Center parking lot in West Valley City on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.
Salt Lake County mobile testers gather information from people as they wait in long lines to get tested for COVID-19 at the county’s testing site in the Maverik Center parking lot in West Valley City on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he’s not going to limit “what goes on inside the walls of your home” for the upcoming holiday season.

He did indicate, however, that health experts have recommendations that will help everyone have a happy and safe season — even as Utah set new records again Thursday both for COVID-19 deaths and new cases.

“We want to minimize the risk to yourself and to family when it comes to catching and spreading the COVID-19 virus,” Herbert said during his monthly PBS news conference. “The more people who gather together in an interaction, the closer you have people in the interaction, the longer that interaction lasts, the more risky that interaction becomes.”

Like much of the nation, Utah continues to be in the midst of climbing COVID-19 case counts.

Yet another daily record was broken on Thursday with 3,968 new COVID-19 cases reported in Utah in a 24-hour period. A previous daily high of 3,919 was reported by the Utah Department of Health last Thursday.

The state has had a total of 165,996 known coronavirus cases since March, after nearly 1.3 million people have been tested, the health department reported.

There are 535 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 at hospitals throughout Utah, reaching near capacity at some and overwhelming already overworked staff there.

Intermountain Healthcare on Wednesday reported that it will be implementing steps to conserve intensive medicine resources and help reduce hospital capacity by postponing some elective surgeries that require a hospital stay. It is “a necessary and appropriate step given the sharp spike in hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19,” the health system reported.

Affected patients will be notified and surgeries will be rescheduled after the surge subsides and resources again become available.

“Our intent is to continue to provide surgical care where possible and make adjustments as needed as our resources get stressed,” said Dr. Rob Ferguson, Intermountain’s senior medical director of surgical operations.

Case numbers have been surging since mid-September when schools went back into session, with sharp increases particularly among the 15-24 age group.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 3,163 per day — the highest it has been in Utah so far. And the rolling seven-day average for percent of positive lab tests is 23.7%, which Herbert said is “way too high.”

A record one-day total number of new deaths was also reported on Thursday, when 18 COVID-19-caused deaths were added to the total of 756 deaths caused by the virus in Utah since the pandemic began. The majority of those 18 deaths were people between the ages of 65 and 84 who were either hospitalized or residents at long-term care facilities at the time of their deaths, according to the health department.

Gov. Gary Herbert removes his mask before his monthly news conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
Gov. Gary Herbert removes his mask before his monthly news conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Thanksgiving tips

Herbert issued new public health orders nearly two weeks ago, including a statewide mask mandate and a pause for most extracurricular activities, as well as limiting gathering sizes to 10 — efforts that aim to stem the spread of infection.

But so far the rising numbers show no sign of stopping.

The mask mandate will be renewed, Herbert said, but the part about limiting social gatherings to people in the home will be removed come Nov. 23.

Nevertheless, Herbert said that for the safest Thanksgiving holiday, Utahns should “only gather with those in your own home.”

And when others are present, the governor said the host “should always require that masks be worn.”

He recommends spacing chairs 6 feet apart before guests arrive, so there is no confusion. Another tip Herbert provided during the briefing was to avoid potluck-type dinners, which are typical for Thanksgiving.

“This is not a normal Thanksgiving time,” he said. More information on the state’s holiday recommendations can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov/holidays.

Herbert again said he hopes people will “do the right thing” to protect themselves, family and friends. He said “more people are wearing masks” in public and taking it more seriously, according to Utah’s HERO Project, which sends people out to monitor social behavior pertaining to the pandemic.

Herbert said he believes “enough people” will comply.

“It’s what we need to do to get through this troubled time and get to 2021,” he said.

Herbert joined President-elect Joe Biden and his staff on a conference call with other governors on Thursday to discuss ongoing efforts to stop the spread of disease.

“We had a good discussion about how states and the federal government can work together in the nationwide fight against COVID-19,” Herbert said. He was hopeful the new administration would continue to allow states to manage their own responses to the pandemic.

“I wished the president-elect every success and am grateful for his efforts to engage the nation’s governors in these important discussions,” the governor said in a statement.

In a subsequent press conference, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris referenced a comment Herbert made regarding how success could be framed.

“I have served in both state and local government,” Harris said, “so I understand the critical role our governors play and they will have partners in the White House starting on Jan. 20. Because as Gov. Herbert said in our meeting, ‘When the states are successful the country is successful.’”

Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during his monthly news conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during his monthly news conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Herbert maintains that more testing, and especially accurate testing, is needed to identify asymptomatic carriers and “isolate them.” He hopes to be able to test up to 250,000 people in Utah each week within the coming weeks.

Despite the challenges that have been experienced this year, Herbert said, “We have a lot to be thankful for.”

“Let’s appreciate the great time we live in here today in this great country,” he said.

New COVID-19 cases reported on Thursday by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 1,561
  • Utah County, 964
  • Davis County, 353
  • Weber-Morgan, 258
  • Southwest Utah, 219
  • Bear River, 283
  • Central Utah, 111
  • Tooele County, 63
  • Southeast Utah, 43
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 34
  • Wasatch County, 34
  • Summit County, 31
  • San Juan County, 14

Thursday’s 18 reported deaths:

  • Davis County: A man between the ages of 65 and 84 at a long-term care facility.
  • Salt Lake County: A man between the ages of 65 and 84 at a long-term care facility; a man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized; a woman between the ages of 65 and 84 at a long-term care facility; a woman older than 85 who was hospitalized; and man between the ages of 45 and 64 who was hospitalized.
  • Summit County: A woman older than 85 years of age at a long-term care facility.
  • Utah County: A woman between the ages of 65 and 84 at a long-term care facility; a woman older than 85 years of age at a long-term care facility; a man older than 85 who was also a resident at a long-term care facility; a woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized; and a man older than 85 who was not hospitalized.
  • Wasatch County: A woman older than 85 who was hospitalized.
  • Washington County: A woman older than 85 who was hospitalized; a man older than 85 who was hospitalized; a man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized; and a woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized.
  • Weber County: A woman older than 85 at a long-term care facility.

The health department removed two Salt Lake County women, both between the ages of 65 and 84, one of whom was a resident at a long-term care facility and the other not hospitalized when she died, who were previously reported to have died because of COVID-19. Further investigation showed that was not the case.

Contributing: Amy Joi O’Donoghue