SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s COVID-19 death toll surpassed 800 on Tuesday as health officials reported 11 more fatalities as well as 2,701 additional cases.
That means more than 100 deaths have been confirmed in the Beehive State since just 11 days previously on Nov. 13, when the death toll surpassed 700.
To date, 182,121 cases have been confirmed out of 1,367,935 people tested in Utah, with a 13.2% positive rate. At least 63,000 cases are currently considered active in the state — the highest number at any time so far in the pandemic.
That’s part of the reason health officials and state leaders are encouraging residents to avoid gathering with those of other households, and to keep Thanksgiving celebrations small this year.
“As of late, about 1 in 70 people right now have a COVID infection, so as you think about Thanksgiving and wanting to gather 10 or 15 together, just know that there’s about a 30% chance of exposure. And if your group’s bigger, that doubles,” said Sharon Talboys, University of Utah assistant professor of family and preventive medicine, who oversees contact tracing at the university.
Through a contract between the U. and the Utah Department of Health, Talboys also directs recruiting and training of contract tracers that the school has been deploying to the state.
Current isolation recommendations
Those who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for at least 10 days after the first day they start experiencing symptoms. That means they need to remain in their own room and wear a mask whenever they interact with anyone else, including their caretaker. All interactions should be limited, Talboys said.
Because most infection spread occurs within households, those infected with COVID-19 and those with whom they share a household need to take special precautions.
It’s also best for those who isolate to use a separate bathroom from other household members. If that’s not possible, they should sanitize the bathroom after each use, Talboys said.
Other members of the household should prepare food for the person with COVID-19, she said, and not share dishes.
While most infections resolve within 10 days, Talboys said, “if you’re approaching 10 days of your isolation and you’re still feeling symptoms, you’re still feeling sick or getting worse, you would continue that isolation until those symptoms start to improve markedly.”
That 10-day mark isn’t a “magic number,” according to Talboys. If someone still has a fever within 24 hours of the 10-day point, they should remain in isolation.
Those who tested positive for the disease but are asymptomatic need to isolate for 10 days after the day of their test, Talboys said.
Those who are quarantining after coming into contact with a case — meaning they haven’t tested positive for the disease but are at risk for it — need to stay away from others for 14 days, which is how long it could take before symptoms develop.
That’s why it’s important for those who live with someone with COVID-19 to limit contact and follow the guidelines — as not doing so could expand their quarantine time, Talboys said.
When a person is cleared to exit isolation or quarantine, it is safe for them to be around others and return to life as normal. But if they did have symptoms, they should check with their doctor before returning to vigorous exercise, Talboys said, as the disease can affect many systems of the body.
In trying to identify cases and give them isolation guidelines, contact tracers face the difficulty of getting people to actually answer the phone, as many do not.
Talboys urged people who have tested positive not to screen numbers they don’t recognize, as it could be their county health department.
“For every positive case they’re unable to make contact with, it’s another opportunity for the diseases to spread,” Talboys said. “Because the goal is to stamp this out.”
Need for increased contact tracing
The surge in cases has led to the need for more contract tracers. The University of Utah has deployed 200 to the state so far, Talboys said.
Contact tracers have also needed to implement new processes throughout the pandemic — all while working remotely.
“And it seems like just when we get a handle on this brand new process that we’ve never done before, then we have to ramp up again, and it just keeps expanding,” she said.
On campus, a team of about 25 contact tracers helps with the Salt Lake County Health Department’s efforts.
“Because as you can imagine the local health departments have their hands quite full with the whole county. And then we have our own kind of community on campus,” Talboys said.
That includes student housing and classrooms, as well as numerous work sites around campus.
“Our team investigates those, and we provide guidance to groups like classrooms or athletic teams, or marching band, any groups that are operating on campus — we will coordinate the contact tracing effort with them and advise the faculty and students and all that,” Talboys said.
“It’s been fairly all-consuming, but it’s what we need to do.”
While teens and young adults have accounted for much of the spread throughout the state, the university has a relatively low positivity rate — in the single digits, Talboys said.
“These students are pretty heroic, because we know that the broader population has a lot more trouble complying. And we’re asking our students, and our students are complying, they’re doing something very hard,” according to Talboys.
“We’ve isolated and quarantined a lot of people on campus over this whole semester. And it’s also helpful that the U. has had a limited number of in person classes,” she said.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 before fall break will need to either isolate on campus or at a hotel contracted by the county for housing cases. Those who have a place to isolate at home without endangering family members are encouraged to do so, Talboys said.
New cases, deaths
Tuesday’s cases were confirmed out of 15,528 people tested, with a 17.4% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is 3,284 per day, and the average positive test rate is 23%.
Currently, 552 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is seven more than were hospitalized on Monday.
The deaths reported Tuesday bring the state’s toll to 808. They were:
- Morgan County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
- Utah County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- Duchesne County man, older than 85, long-term care resident.
- Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Wasatch County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- Weber County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Davis County woman, 65-84, unknown whether hospitalized.
- Davis County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
- Box Elder County man, 45-64, hospitalized.