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Sunday ends Utah’s most deadly week so far in the pandemic

Utah mom and doctor’s wife describes personal toll several months into pandemic as health officials report another 3,197 COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths

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A worker walks through a COVID-19 drive-thru test site at the Maverik Center parking lot in West Valley City on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials reported another 3,197 COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths on Sunday, ending the state’s deadliest week so far in the pandemic.

Since Monday, Nov. 16, the Beehive State has netted a staggering 75 deaths — 9.5% of the state’s total — after three previous deaths were removed from the count after further investigation.

Utah’s record in deaths reported in one day occurred on Thursday, when 18 were reported. The next day, the state confirmed 17.

The dramatic increase in fatalities has come weeks into the state’s surge in cases. Before Oct. 6, Utah hadn’t confirmed more than nine deaths due to coronavirus in a single day. Since then, they began to steadily climb.

Though more deaths are occurring, the overall death rate remains at a relatively low rate compared to other states. As of Sunday, it stood at 0.45% of confirmed cases — 793 out of 177,176. Hospital leaders have warned, however, that an overwhelming demand on the hospital system will likely result in reduced quality of care and lead to a growth in the death rate.

Currently, 556 patients are hospitalized with the coronavirus in Utah, nearly 200 of whom are in intensive care units. The state’s ICUs are 90.8% full overall, and referral ICUs that can treat the most serious patients are 94.3% full.

Hospital leaders continue to warn that they face limitations not of space or supplies, but of doctors and nurses who are exhausted months into the pandemic, even as they and their family members risk getting infected infected in their communities.

‘It’s been a lot of emotions’

For one Utah family, the pandemic has been personal since early in March, when the state began identifying its first coronavirus cases.

“Back then, we didn’t really understand how long the virus lasted, we didn’t understand how virulent it was,” said Shonni Peterson, whose husband, a family doctor, treated one of the state’s first COVID-19 patients.

That’s when the family implemented what might’ve then been considered extreme measures to prevent the infection from spreading within their household, the mom of two young boys recalled.

They began limiting visits to stores and wearing masks when they did shop, wearing gloves when getting the mail, avoiding family get-togethers and other measures.

“And I remember ... the looks I’m getting from people. No one is wearing masks or gloves, and I just got a lot of looks,” said Peterson, who also used to work as an emergency room and flight nurse.

Her husband — after first potentially getting exposed and hearing concerns of hospitals getting overrun — considered staying in a hotel or even a tent to protect his family, but ultimately decided it’d be better for his kids if he remained home.

Each time he got home from work, he decontaminated in the family’s basement shower and his wife immediately washed his clothes, Peterson said.

For the past several months, each time one of the kids has a runny nose, they get tested for the virus. Their father then gets tested if the boys’ tests come back negative, Peterson said.

“We’ve been through a lot of COVID testing in our family,” Peterson said.

“I think it’s been very stressful for everybody, for our kids, my husband, me. It’s been a lot of emotions. I think at the beginning it was just fear and worry, and then it’s been stress,” she recalled. “We are not meant to be by ourselves and this stressed out this long.”

As a mom during the pandemic, Peterson said, it’s difficult having less time to oneself with schools and preschools often shut down, and with playdates and other activities posing a risk.

Although she loves her kids, “I think it’s hard as a parent when there isn’t that break. You’ve got your kids 24/7 … but for that period of school closing down it’s like I don’t have any physical and emotional break,” Peterson said, noting that she hasn’t had outlets or time to do the things she enjoys like exercise.

Peterson said her husband has also needed to work “nonstop.”

“He’s so busy because all these people are coming to get tested, and people are waiting to come be seen, so when they come they’re a lot sicker than they normally would be,” she said, adding that he’s also seeing many suffering from ‘long-haul COVID-19’ symptoms.

Peterson said the message she’d like to send others during this time is that “I just hope that my family and my friends, regardless of what they believe and what they practice, that they know we’re doing what we’re doing because it keeps us and them safe. We’re not trying to isolate or be anti-social, we’re really doing what we think is best right now for us and for everybody.”

New cases, deaths

Sunday’s cases were confirmed out of 13,641 people tested, with a 23.4% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is now 3,310 per day, and the average positive test rate is 23.5%.

The deaths reported Sunday were: a Davis County man between 65 and 84; a Salt Lake County man older than 85; a Salt Lake County man between 65 and 84; a Washington County man between 45 and 64; and a Washington County woman between 65 and 84, all of whom were hospitalized when they died. A Davis County woman older than 85, who was a long-term care resident, also died.

The average age of those who have died with the disease in Utah is 73.8. Just over 92% were considered at high risk, meaning they were over age 65 and/or had an underlying health condition that made them susceptible to COVID-19.

Thirty people between ages 25 and 44 have died in Utah; 157 people between the ages of 45 and 64; 399 people between 65 and 84; and 203 people older than 85.

To date, 177,176 cases have been confirmed out of 1,344,945 people tested in Utah, with a 13.2% positive rate. At least 116,000 are considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses. Hospitalizations since the outbreak started now total 7,532.