SALT LAKE CITY — Even though COVID-19 vaccines are coming, Utahns should avoid gathering for holiday celebrations with older family members who are more vulnerable to the deadly virus, a pair of University of Utah health experts said Friday.

Their pleas were made the same day more than 3,000 new cases and eight additional deaths were reported in the state.

“People really do have to say, ‘I am willing to sacrifice Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s celebrations so I can see the daffodils bloom in the spring.’ This is really the starkness of the choice,” said Kathie Supiano, director of the U. College of Nursing’s Caring Connections program.

Utah reported 3,005 new cases of the novel coronavirus Friday and a total of 925 deaths, eight more than Thursday. Another 16,129 people have been tested since Thursday, and the rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 2,728 per day. The rolling seven-day average for the percent of tests that that are positive is 25.2%

The numbers are worrying to state officials and do not yet reflect the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Supiano, a grief therapist, said she isn’t attempting to “guilt-trip people” into giving up upcoming celebrations, but asks that Utahns consider how they would feel if they turned out to be the source of an outbreak within their own family and choose to celebrate responsibly.

“This is really where we set our personal freedom aside, and say, for the good of my family, the good of my neighborhood, the good of my church, the good of my state, the good of my nation, we just have to assume we’re carrying, or everyone we interact with is a carrier, and keep that distance,” she said.

Sharon Voegele, a resident of The Ridge Foothill, visits with son Ben Voegele through a plastic shield while seated at a long table at the assisted living community in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. A pair of University of Utah health experts said Friday that even though COVID-19 vaccines are coming, Utahns should avoid gathering for holiday celebrations with older family members who are more vulnerable to the deadly virus. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

But being apart doesn’t rule out celebrating together, Supiano said, proposing that people come up with new traditions such as opening gifts or watching movies together during a video chat.

“Distance is not geography,” she said. “And hugs are not just tactile.”

Dr. Mark Supiano, chief of the University of Utah’s Health Division of Geriatrics, advised against any holiday travel and suggests that in-person celebrations are still a long ways off despite the news that vaccines earmarked for front-line health care workers at the U. and other hospitals are expected to arrive shortly.

“I think the adage of Christmas in July is going to be a reality,” he said, adding Utahns need to stay vigilant.

“Right now, the mask is the effective vaccine that we have,” Mark Supiano said, along with social distancing, hand-washing and other precautions. “It won’t be until 60, 70, 80% of the population is vaccinated and protected that we will begin to think about letting that guard down.”

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday at his weekly coronavirus update that it may take until the springtime before vaccines are available to all Utahns.

Utah has been experiencing a record number of coronavirus cases, but the overwhelming majority of cases as well as hospitalizations are among people under 65 years old. Mark Supiano said that’s good news, because older adults are getting the message that they’re high risk for being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19.

As of Thursday, he said, 76% of the deaths caused by the virus in Utah have occurred in people who were at least 65 years old, a group that makes up only about 12% of the state’s population. About two-thirds of the deaths were in nursing homes.

For Utahns overall, there’s only a 5% risk that testing positive for the virus means hospitalization but that jumps to 19% among those 65-84 years old, he said. And more than a quarter of Utahns who are at least 85 years old, some 27%, can expect to be hospitalized.

Karl Ramirez, associate director of marketing at The Ridge Foothill, left, walks with resident Mary Lynne Edison at the assisted living community in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. A pair of University of Utah health experts said Friday that even though COVID-19 vaccines are coming, Utahns should avoid gathering for holiday celebrations with older family members who are more vulnerable to the deadly virus. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The vaccines, which will be administered once they receive emergency approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are likely to have fewer adverse effects for older adults than a flu shot, Mark Supiano said, advising them to “err on the side of getting the vaccine.”

The governor has warned that the next 45 to 60 days “might be the toughest stretch of all” since the pandemic began in March and is continuing the statewide mask mandate. His limit on casual social gatherings was in place two weeks before it was lifted in time for Thanksgiving.

While Herbert made it clear he doesn’t want to police Christmas gatherings, he, too, called on Utahns to act responsibly to help avoid hospital overcrowding and to protect older adults who are the hardest-hit by the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, we continue to spread the disease to people who can’t handle the serious effects,” the governor said. Younger people are picking up the virus as they socialize, he said, “and they take it home and infect their parents, infect their grandparents” often without ever displaying any symptoms.

“It’s a tragedy for a state that considers themselves very family-oriented and family-friendly, when our grandparents in fact, are taking the brunt of the mortality rates because of this pandemic,” Herbert said.

The state reported Friday that 587 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, bringing the total hospitalizations in Utah since the start of the outbreak to 8,652.

The eight new deaths are:

  • A Davis County man older than 85 and a long-term care facility resident.
  • A Salt Lake County man older than 85 and a long-term care facility resident.
  • A Salt Lake County man between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Utah County man between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Salt Lake County man between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was a long-term care facility resident.
  • Two Salt Lake County women between 65 and 84 who were both hospitalized when they died.