SOUTH SALT LAKE — Nearly half the men tested at the South Salt Lake men’s homeless shelter are confirmed to have COVID-19, officials reported Friday.
After two men tested positive last week, the whole center became a quarantine facility and most staff and clients were tested for the virus, Salt Lake County officials said.
Now, despite precautions taken, 92 more men tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 205 who were tested in the center, bringing the total confirmed cases in the facility to 94. Four remained hospitalized Friday.
Meanwhile, two more Utahns died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 23, state officials said Friday. The majority of those who died have had underlying conditions.
Both victims, residents of San Juan County, were hospitalized when they died. One was described only as a woman older than 60 with underlying medical conditions. The other was a man under the age of 60 who also had underlying medical conditions, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Both deaths actually occurred in March, but the patients were being cared for at Arizona hospitals. Officials only recently confirmed they were Utah residents.
Just over 2,800 people in Utah have now tested positive for COVID-19 — a rise of 122 cases since Thursday. Meanwhile, 55,771 residents have been tested for the disease, an increase of 6,093 test results since the previous day.
An estimated 443 people have passed the three-week mark after testing positive and are considered to be recovered.
More than half of Friday’s testing numbers were negative test results from Test Utah locations, the state health department said. It was the first day the negative results from those sites were included in the state’s daily total.
Men’s shelter outbreak
The majority of those who tested positive in the South Salt Lake Men’s Resource Center were asymptomatic, said Chloe Morroni, Salt Lake County spokeswoman.
“That 46% attack rate is consistent with rates found at other congregant living settings that have confirmed exposure to this virus. While this finding is truly unfortunate, it’s not especially surprising given that a group living setting like this one is similar to a big household,” said Ilene Risk, epidemiology bureau manager for the Salt Lake County Health Department.
Transmission rates in large households tend to be between 25% and 50%, she said.
The first two men tested positive on April 7 and 8, and most of the others were tested on April 13, according to Risk.
Those who tested positive were moved to an isolation facility for monitoring of their symptoms and recovery. Those who tested negative are remaining at the men’s resource center and getting screened for symptoms twice a day.
The homeless resource center is no longer accepting new clients.
The center is not the first large congregant living facility to see an outbreak in Utah. At least two other long-term care facilities in Salt Lake County have experienced multiple confirmed cases and several of the state’s deaths from COVID-19.
The Salt Lake County Health Department is working closely with other congregant living settings, including long-term care facilities, to watch for exposure. When someone tests positive, everyone else at the facility also gets tested, Risk said.
The tests were conducted by the Utah Department of Health’s new mobile testing unit. The unit and its staff, alongside staff from University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare, went to all four homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County.
”This is the first time the public health lab has ever done any kind of mobile response,” said Kelly Carnahan, emergency manager for the Utah Public Health Laboratory. “We did 400 people in the homeless shelters in the Salt Lake Valley. We’re going to the shelters, and they’re in a communal situation. It’s pretty extreme in those situations.”
The mobile facility tested all of the more than 200 from the men’s shelter. Carnahan said the mobile staff also responded to requests from correctional facilities and centers caring for the elderly last week before the team headed south in response to a request from the Navajo Nation this week.
Weeks of planning and added procedures since the pandemic hit Utah — including extra cleaning, further separation of people in the homeless resource centers, and daily screening for temperatures and symptoms — held cases in the three shelters back, said Katherine Fife, director of programs and partnerships for Salt Lake County.
“The nature of a congregant living facility like a homeless resource center creates unique challenges in the effort to slow the spread of the virus. Social distancing is one of the most effective methods for slowing the spread of COVID-19, but that is especially challenging in a building that houses 300 people,” officials said in a statement.
While cases continue to rise in Utah at about a 5% rate of those tested, projections are acting as a moving target for when the state will see its peak demand on the health care system — and when it will potentially be able to loosen restrictions.
While Intermountain Healthcare officials said last week they project the disease could peak in Utah in May and possibly into early June, the system’s projections change every day as social distancing measures push peak dates out a “number of weeks.”
When asked when Utah might expect a surge, “I can say that if I knew that, I would rest easier every night,” said Rob Allen, Intermountain senior vice president and chief operating officer.
“And the growth rate is not as exponentially driven, or it’s not as high a spike as we’ve seen in other markets.”
But the hospital system is still preparing for a potential increase of demand for care.
“We are ready. We are constantly assessing our readiness on a daily basis to make sure that we have the space, the personnel, and the supplies and equipment to handle what we foresee coming in the near and interim period of time,” Allen said.
This week, the organization is testing its capacity to convert the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray to a relief-valve facility for treating non-COVID-19 patients. The system is also considering, should it see a large surge, moving inpatient pediatric patients and others up to age 30 at other hospitals to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City to free up space.
While University of Utah biostatisticians said last week that Utah could see its peak begin starting last weekend, the university is not providing updates to the public on its projections, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
“Our current models are based on what’s happening in our community on a day-to-day basis. Right now as a system, we’re not focused on particular timing but rather how to look at the data as a way to prepare,” Julie Kiefer said.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has provided a public-facing model used by Utah officials, now predicts the Beehive State could see its peak April 24 — a date that has shifted a few times in the institute’s projections. The analysts also project 202 deaths for Utah, up several deaths since previous projections.
The Seattle analysts’ updates come as more data becomes available to feed into their projections. The most recent model accounts for new state-by-state hospital admission and corresponding outcome data, including in Utah, according to the institute.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation did not respond to requests for comment.
The breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases by health district as of Friday:
- Salt Lake County, 1,456; 126 hospitalized; 12 deaths
- Utah County, 403; 22 hospitalized; 4 deaths
- Summit County, 311; 29 hospitalized; 0 deaths
- Davis County, 227; 21 hospitalized; 2 deaths
- Weber-Morgan, 110; 12 hospitalized; 1 death
- Wasatch County, 103; 5 hospitalized; 1 death
- Southwest Utah, 63; 9 hospitalized; 1 death
- Bear River, 52; 9 hospitalized; 0 deaths
- Tooele County, 38; 4 hospitalized; 0 deaths
- San Juan County, 17; 5 hospitalized; 2 deaths
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 9; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths
- Central Utah, 11; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths
- Southeast Utah, 5; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths
Contributing: Amy Donaldson