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Utah seeing ‘plateau’ in COVID-19 cases, but elderly remain at high risk

More than 90% of COVID-19 deaths in Utah over age 65, officials say

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Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, waits to speak at the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Even after Utah loosened social distancing restrictions, the state is seeing a plateau in COVID-19 cases, officials said Monday.

“We continue to have ample hospital capacity and stable testing numbers. This is a sign that people are taking our public health recommendations seriously, social distancing when possible, teleworking when possible, wearing masks in crowded places, using good hand hygiene and staying home when ill,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.

And for the first time, Utah’s number of estimated recovered case, at 3,181, has surpassed those with active illnesses, at 3,114. Cases are considered recovered after passing the three-week point since diagnosis.

However, risk remains high for older adults and those with serious underlying health conditions. Just over 90% of the state’s 68 fatalities with COVID-19 in Utah were age 65 or older and/or in a high-risk category, according to new data.

The average age of those who have died is 72 12, and 76% had underlying health conditions, the Utah Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission says.

Although the state’s overall risk is considered moderate — some businesses, including restaurants and salons, were allowed to reopen May 1 — the loosened restrictions don’t apply to those in high-risk populations. They are urged to continue taking strong precautions against the virus, Dunn said.

To help those groups stay safe from the virus even as restrictions continue relaxing statewide, Dunn announced a new hotline for at-risk individuals who may need meal, grocery or medication delivery.

The hotline, 1-877-424-4640, will remain open Mondays-Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Representatives from the Department of Human Services will operate the line.

Southern Utah risk level

Some southern Utah counties last week sought to lower their risk level to the yellow, or low-risk, phase to reflect what local officials described as more travel occurring in that area and relatively low case numbers. After their first request was rejected early in the week, officials in the area remained optimistic Friday the second request would be approved.

A transmission rate higher than what’s needed to move to a low-risk level, however, put a damper on their plans.

Washington, Kane and Iron counties’ joint request has been “postponed for now,” a spokesman for the Southwest Utah Health Department confirmed while declining to provide additional details.

On Friday, the health district had just 113 confirmed cases during the course of the outbreak. That number jumped to 170 by Monday. Dunn said officials are looking into whether the new cases were related to an influx of visitors.

“We take this holistic picture of what’s happening in each jurisdiction before making those decisions, but transmission rate is part of that,” Dunn explained.

“We’re currently reviewing the data with them, ongoing, to identify the indicators that could suggest that they could safely move down to yellow,” she said.

St. George city officials said in a statement they would continue working with state and local health departments, and that the request to move to yellow had not been withdrawn.

Though such requests so far have been denied, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday that some parts of the state may reopen faster than others.

“We always assumed that there would be geographical components to this and we would look at things by region or by county,” the lieutenant governor said when asked about a recent request from Cache County to move to a less-restrictive yellow status. 

Counties more hard-hit by the virus could also move to higher risk levels, he said.

A process is already in place for counties that want restrictions removed through a new commission created by the Legislature in a special session last month that considers requests made by county health officials to the state health department, Cox said. The commission then makes recommendations to the governor.

But Cox said Utahns need to play their part.

“We can open things up even more now if we will wear masks, and if we will stay 6 feet apart, and if we will wash our hands, and if we can make sure and show that the virus is not spreading exponentially,” he said. “We’ll be able to get back to even closer than normal.”

New cases

Officials Monday also confirmed one more person died with COVID-19 in Utah, a Salt Lake County man described only as an older adult under 60 who was hospitalized when he died, Dunn said. He brings the state’s death toll to 68.

Confirmed cases also rose by 111, bringing the state’s total to 6,362. The Beehive State saw a 1.8% growth rate as about 4,000 more people were tested, bringing the total number of tested to 150,585. But the overall rate of those who tested positive remains about 4.3%.

Among the new cases, 13 were confirmed in the Midvale Family Resource Center after 140 people at the shelter were tested on Thursday. The cases occurred in seven different families, and three employees also tested positive, according to Chloe Morroni, Salt Lake County spokeswoman.

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Medical assistant Nicole PaepkeIs is helped into personal protective equipment by Rob Graul and Marilee Slade prior to performing COVID-19 tests at Utah Valley Hospital in Provo on Friday, May 8, 2020. In an effort to help address COVID-19 hot spots that have been identified in Utah County, the Intermountain Healthcare Coronavirus Mobile Testing Unit provided testing to area residents.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In Utah, 517 people have been hospitalized for the virus at some point during the pandemic, 92 of whom are currently hospitalized — the same number as the past few days.

The breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 3,365; 294 hospitalized; 45 deaths
  • Utah County, 1,358; 78 hospitalized; 11 deaths
  • Summit County, 386; 33 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • Davis County, 338; 28 hospitalized; 2 deaths
  • Weber-Morgan, 197; 27 hospitalized; 2 deaths
  • Wasatch County, 183; 8 hospitalized; 1 death
  • Southwest Utah, 170; 13 hospitalized; 3 deaths
  • San Juan County, 149; 15 hospitalized; 3 deaths
  • Tooele County, 77; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • Bear River, 81; 12 hospitalized; 1 death
  • Central Utah, 28; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • Southeast Utah, 14; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 16; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche