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Three weeks after Thanksgiving, Utah’s COVID-19 case rates declining

Registered nurse Amy Wilcox administers COVID-19 tests for Nora Thompson, center, and her three daughters at a drive-thru test center at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.
Registered nurse Amy Wilcox administers COVID-19 tests for Nora Thompson, center, and her three daughters at a drive-thru test center at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Beehive State has seen a gradual decrease in its new COVID-19 cases and positive test rate over the past three weeks — despite concerns that Thanksgiving would worsen the ongoing surge, according to Utah Department of Health data.

The state’s rolling seven-day average for new cases is now 2,442 per day, while the positive lab test rate is 22.8%, health officials reported.

Over the last week, the average daily case count fell about 200, down from 2,633 on Sunday, Dec. 13. The average positivity rate also fell more nearly 2% from 24.6%. The week before on Dec. 6, the rolling average for new cases was 3,077 per day, and the average positivity rate of lab tests was 26.6%.

Before and after Thanksgiving, hospital and state leaders expressed concern that the holiday could exacerbate the strain on Utah’s health system and residents’ vigilance would determine how the state fared.

Utah’s record for new cases in one day occurred on Nov. 19, when just over 4,600 were reported. Though some days have brought similarly high case counts, Utah’s epidemic curve has fallen overall since then.

The rolling seven-day average for the percent of positive laboratory tests reached an all-time high in Utah at just over 27% on Dec. 7. It has also fallen since then.

But current COVID-19 hospitalizations and daily death counts have remained high, as those numbers are lagging indicators that result weeks after case spikes, according to health officials.

On Sunday, 557 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus in Utah, which is two fewer than were hospitalized the previous day. Intensive care units across the state were 94.8% full overall, and referral ICUs that can treat more serious patients were 98.7% full.

The whole state is also still confirming rates of the disease considered “very high” — more than 200 cases per 100,000 people — by health officials within the last two weeks. Most areas’ case rates are considered stable, however, as they aren’t rising, according to the state health department.

New cases, vaccinations

Utah health officials reported another 1,994 COVID-19 cases out of 8,663 people tested on Sunday, as well as seven more deaths.

Over the week ending on Sunday, 23,400 vaccines were shipped to the Beehive State and about 5,000 doses were administered to health care workers. Utah expects another 16,757 to be shipped this week.

The Moderna vaccine which was granted emergency use authorization on Friday will allow hospitals that haven’t yet started vaccinating their workers to begin this week. The Pfizer vaccine approved the week before requires special, colder storage.

To date, 250,964 cases have been confirmed out of 1,642,559 people tested in Utah. Just over 10,000 people have required hospitalization for the disease in the state since the pandemic began.

The deaths reported Sunday were an Iron County man, Morgan County woman, Salt Lake County woman, Utah County woman, and Washington County man, all of whom were between 65 and 84 and hospitalized when they died.

A Sanpete County man between 45 and 64 also died while hospitalized. A Salt Lake County man between 65 and 84, who was a long-term care resident, was also among the newly-reported deaths.