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As Utah COVID-19 cases jump past 1,200, governor warns those ‘not complying’ with directives

Zion National Park closes; Herbert says stay-at-home order under review ‘every day’

The entrance to Zion National Park is pictured on March 25, 2020. The park was closed to visitors Friday, April 3, 2020, due to the spread of COVID-19.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 1,247 on Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert urged residents to avoid the temptation to gather outside and travel as spring gets underway.

Although a statewide stay-at-home order has not been issued, a state directive asks Utahns to avoid all nonessential travel and to stay at home as much as possible.

“I appreciate those that are complying, but there are some out there who are not doing as well as they could or they should,” Herbert said Friday, reminding people to eliminate travel.

As the weather warms and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ general conference weekend commences, Herbert said Utahns will face the temptation to get outdoors and spend time with friends. But he urged people to change their usual behavior.

Don’t vacation in southern Utah, the governor warned.

Zion National Park was closed to visitors “immediately” after state conversations with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Herbert announced. Officials were also working with Arizona to close Lake Powell, which also draws large crowds of out-of-state visitors.

State parks continue to be open only to residents of the county in which each park is located.

Herbert said that while an official statewide order has not been issued at the recommendation of local health departments, the decision is “in review every day.”

“We’ll continue to monitor that. The orders that are in place are virtually the same. If you look at what’s been done by the different counties, and what our directive is, they’re virtually the same,” Herbert said.

Retired Utah Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, left, now leading the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, is introduced by Gov. Gary Herbert during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020.
Retired Utah Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, left, now leading the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, is introduced by Gov. Gary Herbert during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“I’m expecting the people of Utah to use their good common sense, the desire to protect themselves and their family and friends, to do what is right,” he said.

“We’re trying also to find the appropriate balance,” he reiterated, pointing to current high unemployment numbers. “We don’t want to end up having the vise grip on the economy any more than it’s happening now.”

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced Americans should now wear cloth face coverings in public areas “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” The measure is meant to prevent those wearing the masks who have the virus but are asymptomatic from spreading it to others, according to the CDC. People are not urged to wear N95 or surgical masks, as those are in short supply and needed for health care workers.

Hospital beds, supplies

Retired Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, who was recently appointed to lead the Utah Department of Health’s pandemic response, provided updates on the state’s current hospital bed and equipment capacity.

Utah has 600 intensive care unit beds in the system, with about half of them currently occupied — mostly by patients without coronavirus. At the virus’ peak, 227 intensive care unit beds will likely be needed for COVID-19 patients, Burton said.

The state is believed to have enough ventilators, with 28% of 1,000 ventilators currently in use by other patients, according to Burton.

Personal protective gear for health care workers continues to be a challenge. The state needs about 3.6 million masks and has received 165,000, with another 3 million on order. Utah needs 4.7 million gowns and has only 67,000 on hand — but health care facilities have their own stockpiles, Burton said.

Just over 2 million face shields are needed, and the state has received 76,000.

As Utah receives those supplies, officials are distributing items “as quickly as we can out to those facilities that need them,” Burton said.

New COVID-19 cases

Utah saw a jump of nearly 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases since Thursday, health officials said. But Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said day-to-day numbers aren’t the most effective in understanding how the disease is spreading. It’s more beneficial to watch two-week trends, she said.

No new deaths were reported on Friday.

It’s unknown how many people in Utah have recovered from the disease, as Dunn said the state health department is not tracking that number since 90% of cases have not required hospitalization and are recovering at home.

As of Friday, 24,248 Utahns have been tested for the disease — up 3,000 since Thursday — and 106 people have required hospitalization, according to the health department.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says in its projections that Utah could face a peak in the pandemic on April 23, and may see 580 deaths from the disease by Aug. 4.

Dunn said Friday the state health department is mimicking the Seattle analysts’ “great model” with Utah-specific data. She did not say whether state officials agree with the university’s projections of deaths and virus peak.

Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn speaks during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020.
Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn speaks during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 3, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“I think we can do better than what the typical projections would be for our state by those models out there, but it would only happen if we work together,” Herbert said.

No longer included in the state’s official tally of COVID-19 cases are 22 nonresidents, even though they may still be in Utah. Those cases are being recorded in their home states to align with CDC reporting guidelines. Dunn noted that nonresident numbers are not a good indicator of the disease’s spread, but rather people should look at hospitalization numbers, which the health department is now reporting daily.

Emery County confirmed its first case Friday, marking at least one positive case in each county of the Southeast Utah Health Department region. The patient is a man between 18 and 35 who health officials believe contracted COVID-19 through travel.

Southern Utah University also confirmed its first case, a student who did not travel for spring break and contracted the virus from community spread, school officials said in an email to students. Iron County has eight other confirmed coronavirus cases unrelated to the university, officials said.

The student, who doesn’t live on campus, is home under a 14-day quarantine, according to the email.

One recently confirmed case in the Bear River district was the only health care provider at a small family practice clinic, the Bear River Health Department said in a statement Thursday. Bear River includes Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties. The specific city or county of the clinic where the provider works has not been released.

After the provider’s case was confirmed, health officials said they worked “through the night” to identify 10 people who are symptomatic who are being tested and are isolated at home, and 46 individuals who have been quarantined.

“This recent case demonstrates the importance of staying home when you are sick,” Lloyd Berentzen, executive director of the Bear River Health Department, said. “One person not staying home while sick has resulted in more than 50 people being either isolated or quarantined.”

A breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 541
  • Summit County, 222
  • Davis County, 122
  • Utah County, 150
  • Wasatch County, 69
  • Weber-Morgan, 58
  • Southwest Utah, 33
  • Bear River, 24
  • Tooele County, 16
  • San Juan County, 5
  • TriCounty Health Department, 2
  • Southeast Utah, 3
  • Central Utah, 2

The Emery County case had not yet been reflected in Utah’s tally for the Southeast district on Friday.