As Utah reports 5 more COVID-19 deaths, national projection says fewer will die here than first thought
Analysts once predicted 619 people could die in Utah, now say it could be 186
SALT LAKE CITY — Five more deaths from COVID-19 in Utah were confirmed Monday, bringing the total up to 13, health officials said.
Two of the new deaths occurred in a Salt Lake City long-term care facility where another woman’s death of COVID-19 was reported on Saturday, said Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. She said 23 residents and two workers tested positive for the disease there, and the 10 who tested negative were moved to another facility.
The facility will only remain open to treat COVID-19 patients who are recovering from the disease, officials said.
The health department did not name the facility, but Pine Creek Rehabilitation and Nursing in the Poplar Grove neighborhood posted on Facebook over the weekend that all residents in its 34-bed facility had been tested for COVID-19 and those who tested negative would be moved to other care facilities while its location temporarily serves as a dedicated facility for residents who have tested positive for it.
Two others died at a nursing home in Utah County on Saturday, Dunn said. Health officials were working to test other residents there. The name of the home was not released.
All four patients who died at the nursing facilities were described only as over age 60 with “significant” underlying conditions, according to Dunn.
The fifth new death occurred in a Salt Lake County hospital. The patient was described only as a man under 60 with underlying conditions.
Meanwhile, Utah reported 1,676 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, a smaller rise in new cases than the previous few days at 70. About 2,500 more people were tested, bringing the total to 33,394. One hundred thirty-eight people have required hospitalization to date.
The Utah Health Department’s running tally of cases includes deaths and those who have recovered from the virus. But how many have recovered in Utah is not known, as the state is not tracking that number because so many are simply recovering at home. Dunn has said all those who passed the infectious period of the disease are recovering or have recovered.
Utah could experience far fewer deaths from COVID-19 than originally thought, according to Seattle analysts’ projections.
While the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in late March said Utah could see 619 deaths from coronavirus before the pandemic winds down in August, the institute now projects 186 deaths in the Beehive State.
Utah officials say they are using the university’s projections as they battle COVID-19.
The new University of Washington projection comes as the analysts made changes to their model, including adding additional data points. Wuhan, China, was the only place where the virus had already peaked when the projections were first released on March 26. The analysts warned then the projections come with a lot of uncertainty and the range of possible outcomes is wide.
Now, several locations in Italy and Spain have reached their daily death peaks, giving the analysts more data.
In previous projections, the analysts had given all social distancing measures equal weight. Now, they give school closures, stay-at-home orders and nonessential business closures different weight state-by-state, because, for example, school closures “may have a larger effect in some communities than expected; in other locations, fully mandated stay-at-home orders may be required for detectable impact,” analysts said.
Utah implemented a statewide school closure on March 16 but has not yet implemented severe travel restrictions, a stay-at-home order, or a closure of all nonessential businesses. Some of those measures, however, have been taken county-by-county.
When asked about the new projection, Dunn said, “We are fortunate in Utah that we have held steady at less than a 10% hospitalization rate, and our death rate has also been low.”
She said that’s largely because Utah has a younger population, which means less risk of severe outcomes.
But officials are preparing in case those projections don’t end up happening, according to Dunn.
“So we are actively planning for what we would do if there is a surge on our medical system. ... We’re hopeful that those projections hold true, but we’re planning for the case that they might not be,” Dunn said.
The health department is also working with the University of Utah to create its own projections more specific to Utah, Dunn said.
The pandemic could reach its peak in Utah on April 25, 10 days after the pandemic peaks nationally, according to the institute. Utah will have enough beds, according to the analysts, but will still see between six and seven deaths per day from April 19 to April 30. And that is if residents practice full physical distancing measures through May.
Utah is still on trend to see a peak in the pandemic around the end of April, Dunn confirmed, but as each day brings more data, projections are likely to change and become more reliable.
Utah has 600 intensive care unit beds in the system, with about half of them currently occupied — mostly by patients without coronavirus, Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, who is leading the state health department’s COVID-19 response, said Friday. At the virus’ peak, 227 intensive care unit beds will likely be needed for COVID-19 patients.
The state is believed to have enough ventilators, with 28% of 1,000 ventilators currently in use by other patients, according to Burton. About half of those who have required hospitalization for coronavirus in Utah have needed intensive care, officials have said.
The new deaths raise concerns about safety within Utah’s nursing homes and care facilities. Family members of 85-year-old Janice Blodgett, a resident of the Pine Creek Rehabilitation and Nursing facility, say they were told by Pine Creek staff that she died in her sleep of natural causes on Thursday. They didn’t know she’d tested positive for COVID-19.
“People started sending me news articles like, ‘Didn’t your mother die on this date? There’s an article in the news and it says a woman died from Pine Creek.’ And when we put two and two together, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s mom,’ and they said it was from COVID-19. So at that point we knew that something wasn’t being told to us,” said Karen Brinkerhoff, Blodgett’s daughter.
Blodgett’s body was sent to funeral home, where her family members were able to touch her. At that point, they still didn’t know she’d tested positive for COVID-19, Brinkerhoff said. The mother was 85 years old and suffered from a rare form of dementia.
“I couldn’t go there to comfort her. I was stressed all the time thinking, ‘I want to see my mother,’ and the very thing they didn’t want in there is what killed her,” Brinkerhoff said.
Pine Creek representatives in a statement said they didn’t learn Blodgett had tested positive for the virus until after she died. They say they told a family member, but it wasn’t the designated family member “so there might be confusion there that we need to sort out.”
The Utah House Democratic Caucus released a statement Monday urging Gov. Gary Herbert to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
“Utahns have done some great things so far in responding to the threat of the coronavirus. But we must do more. Gov. Herbert must send a stronger, clearer message to every person in the state about the severe threat of COVID-19 to our health, our welfare and our economic well-being,” the House Democrats said in the statement.
The legislators noted in the statement that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Sunday urged all eight governors who haven’t done so yet to issue the order.
“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Adams told CNN on Sunday. Deaths in the U.S. hit 10,000 on Monday.
Herbert said previously he issued a directive urging Utahns to stay at home, rather than an outright order, with hopes people will follow of their own volition and to prevent Utah from becoming a “police state.” But on Friday, the governor said a statewide order is “in review every day.”
The latest breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 777; 67 hospitalized
- Summit County, 260; 20 hospitalized
- Davis County, 154; 11 hospitalized
- Utah County, 223; 14 hospitalized
- Wasatch County, 79; 4 hospitalized
- Weber-Morgan, 71; 5 hospitalized
- Southwest Utah, 42; 7 hospitalized
- Bear River, 33; 6 hospitalized
- Tooele County, 22; 2 hospitalized
- San Juan County, 5; 2 hospitalized
- Central Utah, 4
- Southeast Utah, 3
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 3
TriCounty Health Department reported one additional confirmed case Monday afternoon. It was not included in the state’s tally for Monday.
Contributing: Tania Dean