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COVID-19 unlikely to spread through sex, Utah researchers say

Utah sees two more deaths related to the disease, one in Washington County

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Lee Cherie Booth and Travis K. Langston, both nurses with the Salt Lake County Health Department, wait for their next appointment to arrive for a COVID-19 test outside of the Salt Lake City Public Health Center on Friday, April 10, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah reported two more deaths in patients who had COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll to 41, officials confirmed Saturday.

The latest fatalities include a Salt Lake County resident and a Washington County resident, marking the second death to occur in southern Utah, the Utah Department of Health said.

Both were women over age 60 with underlying health conditions. One lived in a long-term care facility before her death.

Research underway

As part of an international study of Chinese men who had COVID-19, University of Utah researchers answered the question of whether the virus can spread through sexual intercourse. 

They found that the disease is unlikely to be transmitted through semen. 

“The fact that in this small, preliminary study that it appears the virus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t show up in the testes or semen could be an important finding,” said Dr. James M. Hotaling, a co-author of the study and a U. Health associate professor of urology specializing in male fertility. 

“If a disease like COVID-19 were sexually transmittable that would have major implications for disease prevention and could have serious consequences for a man’s long-term reproductive health,” Hotaling said in a statement. 

But the study was limited due to the small group of men researched and because they each had mild or moderate cases. 

“It could be that a man who is critically ill with COVID-19 might have a higher viral load, which could lead to a greater likelihood of infecting the semen. We just don’t have the answer to that right now,” Hotaling said. “But knowing that we didn’t find that kind of activity among the patients in this study who were recovering from mild to moderate forms of the disease is reassuring.”

The researchers warn that the respiratory virus can still spread through intimate contact like kissing. 

U. researchers are also undergoing a variety of other studies about COVID-19, treatments and the disease’s social impacts. The university earlier this week announced a $1.3 million investment in seed grants for that research. 

Other research projects are examining domestic violence that occurs while stay-at-home orders are in effect, the public’s response to communications about COVID-19, and how the pandemic is affecting mental health. 

As of Saturday, 166 more people had tested positive for the virus in Utah, bringing the total to 3,948 out of 90,206 tested. The positive rate has decreased to just under 4.4%.

In Utah 329 people have required hospitalization at some point during the pandemic. About 1,400 people are now considered recovered after passing the three-week point since they tested positive.

A breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 2,051; 182 hospitalized; 24 deaths.
  • Utah County, 725; 40 hospitalized; 7 deaths.
  • Summit County, 355; 31 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Davis County, 268; 21 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 143; 18 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 132; 6 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • Southwest Utah, 83; 9 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Bear River, 58; 10 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • Tooele County, 52; 5 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • San Juan County, 40; 5 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 21; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 11; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 9; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.