SALT LAKE CITY — Two additional COVID-19-related deaths were reported in Utah on Thursday, bringing the total to 21 who have died.
And, even though President Donald Trump is talking about lifting restrictions, Utah epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said state-specific guidelines will be best for Utahns in the coming weeks and months.
Major News Conference tonight, the White House at 6:00 P.M. (Eastern), to explain Guidelines for OPENING UP AMERICA AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2020
She said the state would first need to see a slowing of the growth rate over two weeks and an actual drop in the number of confirmed cases, neither of which has happened.
When the decision to open the economy happens, Dunn said, “We have to be flexible and diligent. In the event that we identify additional cases, we would need to be able to quickly implement social distancing restrictions again ... to save our hospital systems and keep Utahns safe.”
The latest death was a Salt Lake County man over age 85 who lived in a long-term care facility prior to being hospitalized with COVID-19, Dunn said.
She said plans to address cases in long-term care facilities have been in place since January and the health department is working to test every resident and staff member at the location where the deceased man previously resided.
The Utah Department of Health reported Thursday that 2,683 people in Utah have contracted the highly contagious illness, a number that is maintaining around a 5% growth rate day after day, Dunn said. Thursday’s count, however, was the largest increase since April 5, according to state records.
And, 238 people in Utah have been hospitalized with serious symptoms of the illness.
The state has tested at least 49,678 people and has procured enough supplies to test anyone with even mild symptoms. Earlier this week, officials added sore throat and a sudden loss of taste or smell to the list of common coronavirus symptoms, which include fever, shortness of breath and coughing.
Dunn said there is “unmet capacity” in testing, as the state is testing around 2,000 to 3,000 people each day but has the ability to test up to 5,000 daily.
“It is very important for public health to have a clear picture of everyone infected in the state of Utah,” she said. “We should be using all of our testing.”
The Test Utah initiative, which has assessed more than 70,000 Utahns so far, is working to open additional testing sites across the state, and the tech companies behind that are now marketing their coronavirus solutions to other states. And, on Wednesday, the group facilitated a large delivery of personal protective equipment from China to Utah, using connections in the industry.
Researchers at University of Utah Health, too, are offering their expertise to help fill the gaps.
In response to the overwhelming demand for PPE, the U.’s Center for Medical Innovation has designed a 3D-printed Powered Air Purifier Respirator system, which includes a hooded mask and pressurized air flow tubing to further protect health care workers. The idea is being used in Nepal, India, Kenya and Ghana, as well as at the U., the Indian Health Service, and other local health care systems where there is limited supply of other methods to keep health care workers safe.
“The protection of our workforce has to be a priority to be able to care for the large numbers of patients who come in,” said Dr. Bernhard Fassl, associate professor of pediatrics at the U. and co-director at the Center for Medical Innovation.
He said the center is also working on other solutions, responding to the current clinical needs in the health system, including an intubation shield and a CPAP-like device that can be used in patients not quite sick enough to be put on a ventilator.
“There is a huge need,” Fassl said.
In addition, the Utah National Guard has provided 81 soldiers to help in various aspects as the state tries to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. They’re helping with contact tracing, translation services, military advisement, handling humanitarian aid sent to other countries, making face masks and working on planning and operations.
“These soldiers and airmen bring significant skill to this challenge and are at their best when they are supporting their fellow Utahns,” said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Turley, the adjutant general with the Utah Army National Guard. “We stand ready to help our state, by helping our neighbors.”
The breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases by health district as of Thursday:
- Salt Lake County, 1,377; 125 hospitalized
- Utah County, 387; 21 hospitalized
- Summit County, 308; 29 hospitalized
- Davis County, 220; 21 hospitalized
- Weber-Morgan, 108; 11 hospitalized
- Wasatch County, 103; 5 hospitalized
- Southwest Utah, 61; 9 hospitalized
- Bear River, 51; 9 hospitalized
- Tooele County, 38; 4 hospitalized
- San Juan County, 9; 2 hospitalized
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 9; 1 hospitalized
- Central Utah, 8; 1 hospitalized
- Southeast Utah, 4; 0 hospitalized