SALT LAKE CITY — The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah is following the same curve as in other states, according to Dr. Robert Redfield, director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Wednesday, Utah Department of Health officials reported that confirmed positive cases topped 1,000 — to 1,013 — and that now seven people have died from the highly contagious virus in Utah.
The greatest number of cases is occurring in people ages 24 to 65, but the most severe outcomes come to those over age 65, said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist.
“Everyone is at risk,” she said. “It is essential that everybody maintain social distancing recommendations and also self-isolate upon having symptoms because we are all at risk.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert reemphasized his “stay safe, stay home” directive, adding that spring break should also be spent at home.
“This year is going to be a little different,” he said. “Any travel should be essential and necessary.”
He said officials at state parks will be checking identification and only allowing in people who reside in the park’s county.
Herbert also issued an executive order deferring rental payments to May 15, as well as a moratorium on eviction notices to help people “who, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs or lost income because of the COVID-19 virus,” he said.
Herbert also loosened rules for food establishments, saying people may go inside and order at the counter of some places if they can maintain proper social distancing standards inside the restaurants. He said he hopes the change will help some locations preserve their business.
Local jurisdictions, however, can override that provision.
And a public health order issued March 29 by the Salt Lake County Health Department allows only remote ordering of food, which is more restrictive than the state. The department contends that its existing order “offers the correct balance between allowing economic activity and preventing the spread of COVID-19 among residents.”
Davis County on Wednesday issued a mandatory stay-at-home order, effective until May 1. The order follows statewide guidelines closing parks, dine-in restaurants and gathering spots, as well as nonessential businesses.
“The message we need people to hear is stay safe, stay home,” said Brian Hatch, executive director at the Davis County Health Department. “These guidelines are known to be effective to flatten the outbreak curve, reduce the strain on hospitals and the health care system, and minimize the impact on medical resources for those with highest need.”
Ten of the 93 confirmed cases in Davis County have resulted in hospitalizations and the first death in the state occurred there last week. County officials intend to enforce the latest order, but will do so civilly.
“I know there are many out there who feel helpless,” said Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “But I know some of the best ways to overcome the fear and stress is to find ways to give back, get involved and help others.”
He said Utah’s commitment to volunteerism will help the state “fare far better during this trying time than anywhere else.”
Nationally, confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed 206,200, as the U.S. maintains its lead with the greatest number of cases worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
“This is the greatest public health crisis that’s hit this nation in more than 100 years,” Redfield said Wednesday on KSL Newsradio’s “Dave and Dujanovic.”
“But we’re not defenseless here,” he said, adding that social distancing is the “most powerful weapon we have” against coronavirus.
Last week, Herbert directed Utahns to “stay safe, stay home,” but did not issue a shelter-in-place order like those set by at least 27 other states.
Redfield said it is important that states adhere to strict standards of social isolation at least through April, if not longer. Various studies have projected a peak for the virus around April 24 in Utah.
“We ask all Americans ... to slow the spread of coronavirus,” Redfield said, adding that evidence has shown that social distancing measures are working to flatten the curve of infectious transmissions.
While federal officials have said up to 240,000 in the U.S. could die from COVID-19, Redfield said the number doesn’t have to be that high.
“It is dependent upon how aggressively all of us jump into this fight,” he said.
While it is true that about 98% of people who contract the virus will fully recover, “we are trying to protect the vulnerable,” Redfield said. He also said to prevent another wave of disease, it is critical that people don’t get comfortable too early.
He encourages states to look at and evaluate funding for public health, increasing it where necessary.
Herbert said at least $1.25 billion in federal assistance should be coming to Utah and he is meeting with lawmakers to determine what state funds, if any, are needed, too.
Utah government, he said, is fiscally prudent.
“We have not spent foolishly. We have saved for a rainy day and this is in fact a rainy day time,” Herbert said. “It’s going to help us to address this health crisis, to get through this with minimal damage.”
The state is working up to being able to test more and more people for the virus, as well as obtain necessary supplies, including personal protective equipment for health care workers. Cox said more than 100 Utah businesses have stepped up to donate equipment, including five that have secured contracts to manufacture masks and face shields, as well as other equipment.
He said Utahns are also leveraging their national and international connections to “move Utah up the list” to purchase what is needed.
Cox said everyone can do something to help, whether it be supporting local and small businesses, donating to various relief efforts or giving blood in this time of need.
“The reality of this is that this virus is here to stay,” Redfield said.
He cautioned all Americans to “make sure home isolation isn’t personal isolation” and to pay attention to mental health during this time — to “stay connected.”
Health officials reported 1,013 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah as of Wednesday, which isn’t a high number, said Redfield.
“I wouldn’t have that make me feel secure that I can let up,” he said, adding that “you don’t know where you are in the cycle.”
The total includes an additional case announced Wednesday night by the Southeast Utah Health Department — the first in Carbon County — which was not included in the state’s tally. That patient is a male between the ages of 25 and 45 and is not a Utah resident, according to the health department.
As of Wednesday, the Beehive State has tested 20,155 people, though not all results are reported to the health department. Among those tested and confirmed are 91 who have been hospitalized throughout the state, according to numbers updated Wednesday afternoon.
Dunn said the two latest deaths occurred in Salt Lake County — one at a hospice center and one at a hospital. Both of the deceased, she said, were over 65.
She said that the curve is appearing to start to flatten, and while the state is still seeing a daily increase in confirmed cases, it is not the doubling that was expected to happen. The reason is that “people are adhering to social distancing recommendations.”
Dunn said that as the numbers grow, Utah could see shortages of needed beds in intensive care units and also of ventilators necessary to treat the ravaging respiratory symptoms of COVID-19.
“It really is critical that we stay with this the next four weeks, that we’re all in,” Redfield said. “We all have a part in this war. ... It’s not like putting a finger in a dam that is going to break. This is a very powerful weapon.”
And as other nations have experienced, he said, there is an end in sight.
“We will get through this and we will get back to life as we know it,” Redfield said.
A breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 444 residents, 5 nonresidents
- Summit County, 195 residents, 9 nonresidents
- Davis County, 93 residents
- Utah County, 90 residents, 1 nonresident
- Wasatch County, 56 residents, 1 nonresident
- Weber-Morgan, 50 residents
- Southwest Utah, 27 residents, 6 nonresidents
- Bear River, 14 residents
- Tooele County, 13 residents
- San Juan County, 4 residents
- TriCounty Health Department, 2 residents
- Southeast Utah, 1 resident, 1 nonresident
- Central Utah, 1 resident