SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health reported a record-smashing new daily high number of COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 2,807 new cases added to the state’s ever-growing total number of infections.
That’s 515 more coronavirus cases than were reported when the previous record was broken less than a week ago on Oct. 30.
To date, more than 124,292 people in Utah have had confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“It’s grim news and it’s discouraging,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said during the weekly COVID-19 update at the state Capitol on Thursday. He said, however, that with the way things have been going, “it’s not unexpected” and is similar to what is happening around the country.
“Unfortunately, today’s record high case numbers are not surprising, and if projections out of the Utah Department of Health are correct, we will see much higher numbers in the coming weeks,” the governor said. “We will continue to see dramatic increases until we choose to act differently. Medical professionals have warned us again and again. We must change our behavior, if we are to expect a different outcome.”
Herbert said he has met with legislative leadership and others in emergency meetings this week.
“We anticipate sharing more early next week about the additional steps we will take to end the surge in infections,” he said.
In addition to a new daily case record, the latest rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now at 1,943 cases per day, up from 1,578 last week. The percent of positive laboratory tests is now 19.5%, up from 18.1% a week ago, according to the health department.
There are 389 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, which is also the highest number yet. Intensive care units across the state are operating at 78.5% capacity, according to Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.
She said the current surge of cases began in early August with high school and college students going back to class. Dunn said it is important to reduce the number of new cases before winter weather sets in.
“This is not a hoax,” Herbert said. “This is a serious ailment that creates a serious disease.”
Not all areas of the state are seeing the surge, however.
Millard County, in southwestern Utah, was moved Thursday from high transmission status to moderate after decreasing the daily average number of cases, as well as the testing positivity rates there.
Millard and Iron counties are now the only designated moderate disease transmission areas in the state. Five other counties, Rich, Daggett, Piute, Wayne and Kane, currently have low transmission levels.
The rest of the counties in Utah are designated as high transmission areas, where face masks are required and gatherings limited to 10 people or fewer.
Herbert said the current surge has the potential to impact Utah’s economy, particularly the tourism and hospitality industries, which are already experiencing downturns due to the global pandemic. Spikes in case numbers, he said, will impact the ski industry, unless “we can get a handle on these case numbers.”
The state has tested 1.125 million people so far, about a third of Utah’s population, though Herbert has said it is not enough.
Testing and tracking cases has been a focus of the state’s strategy to slow the spread of the virus, but many Utahns are seemingly avoiding getting tested, for whatever reason, or are unable to get appointments to do so.
The Salt Lake County Health Department reported record turnout for COVID-19 testing at the Maverik Center on Tuesday and again on Thursday, two of the three days testing is offered there. Nicholas Rupp, department spokesman, said the location administered 600 tests on Tuesday and nearly 700 on Thursday, as lines of cars stretched around the block.
“People are usually willing to wait for the no-barrier service we offer,” he said, adding that appointments are not required to be tested at the site. Rupp said tests should be reserved for people who are symptomatic or who have come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19, but “public health is supposed to be a safety net ... to provide it for anyone and everyone who needs it.”
The site, at 3200 S. Decker Lake Drive in West Valley City, is prepared each day with 1,200 test kits and will test anyone who is in line by 5 p.m. It also administers tests from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Rupp said testing is important to identify even asymptomatic cases to help stop the spread of disease.
The governor has said he wants testing to be available to more people. He said daily cases are increasing at a rate of 16% per week, with hospitalizations increasing at 14% in the last two weeks.
“Care is being jeopardized right now,” Herbert said. “Unless we change what we’re doing and do something different, we’re going to get the same results.”
The governor pleaded with Utahns to limit social gatherings, specifically with people outside of immediate family. He expressed disappointment for the large number of young people who allegedly gathered en mass for Halloween parties last weekend, calling the behavior “reckless.”
“Young people need to take on the responsibility to act more responsibly ... help us solve this problem, rather than being part of the problem,” Herbert said.
Another seven deaths were added to the state’s total of 632 deaths caused by COVID-19. And while Herbert said Utah’s death rate is low, many more people are experiencing unexpected and long-term health impacts resulting from the virus, even if they weren’t hospitalized.
Among those new deaths are a Davis County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized; two Salt Lake County men older than 85 who were both residents at long-term health care facilities; a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was also a long-term care facility resident; a Tooele County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized; and, two Utah County men between the ages of 65 and 84, one of whom was hospitalized and the other a resident at a long-term care facility.
Upon further investigation, the death of a Utah County woman, between the ages of 45 and 64, was deemed by a medical examiner to not have been caused by COVID-19 and she was removed from the list of deaths caused by the disease.
“Clearly it relies upon we the people of Utah to modify our behavior to slow the spread and stop this virus,” Herbert said.
A vaccine “is literally around the corner,” he said, adding that immunizing against the novel coronavirus will “allow us to get back to social normalcy.”
“We shouldn’t fear the virus, we ought to respect the virus because it is causing dysfunction and harm to our society,” Herbert said.
For more information, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.
New COVID-19 cases reported on Thursday by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 1,164.
- Utah County, 746.
- Davis County, 313.
- Weber-Morgan, 212.
- Southwest Utah, 139.
- Bear River, 105.
- Tooele County, 31.
- Central Utah, 24.
- Summit County, 18.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 18.
- Southeast Utah, 17.
- Wasatch County, 16.
- San Juan County, 4.