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41 residents, 17 staffers at veterans home test positive for COVID-19 as state reports 2 additional deaths

Gary Harter, executive director of Utah’s Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, speaks at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Gary Harter, executive director of Utah’s Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, speaks at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Trent Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY — Another 215 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Utah on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 8,921 throughout the state, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Forty-one residents and 17 staff members at the William E. Christoffersen Veterans Home in Salt Lake City are among those with confirmed cases. The first patient at the facility tested positive on May 18. At the time, an additional five residents and three employees also tested positive. Patients needing care have been moved to the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Late Wednesday, the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, which contracts with Avalon Health Care to run the home, was informed of the results of the latest round of testing.

“We do not know how COVID-19 entered the facility,” said Gary Harter, executive director of Utah’s Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. He said they are working to find out how it has spread and suspects the “insidious nature of asymptomatic spread,” as visitors have not been permitted there since mid-March.

Harter assured, “the care of your loved ones is our top priority.”

The facility, located at 700 S. Foothill Drive, has transitioned to a COVID-19 care facility, as all but 22 infected residents are now being treated in their own rooms, Harter said. The vast majority of infected staff, he said, have been asymptomatic.

“This is an extremely challenging virus but we are determined to beat it,” he said.

Age, as well as underlying conditions, has been named the biggest risk factor for the novel coronavirus, as people over 65 years of age have exhibited more severe illness.

Another population that is struggling is Utah’s Hispanic and Latino community, making up 38.8% of all positive COVID-19 tests in Utah, or 3,461 cases amid the state’s total, according to the health department.

Utah’s Consulate of Mexico has planned an effort to expand coronavirus testing among the uninsured with a free, drive-thru testing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday at Victor’s Event Center, 3270 W. 2537 South, in West Valley City. Appointments can be made by calling 801-747-9547.

Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, is pictured during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, is pictured during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Trent Nelson

The health department is making efforts, including increasing its Spanish-speaking staff to help with tracing and monitoring infection, as well as understand why the spread of disease is happening, said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist.

“A lot of these communities are burdened by jobs that aren’t very good for teleworking,” she said, adding that contributes to community spread.

Overall, the transmission rate throughout the state has remained steady, at around 1.8%, Dunn said.

“We are plateauing ... and working hard to see that decrease,” she said.

At least 251 of Utah’s cases have occurred in the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area of the state, the Utah Division of Indian Affairs reported Thursday.

“This pandemic has hit all the tribal lands hard, but the Navajo Nation has especially been suffering at high numbers,” said Dustin Jansen, the division’s executive director. He said there are weekly and sometimes daily meetings with the state Division of Emergency Management and the health department to figure out ways to stop the spread of illness through the tight-knit Native American communities in the 27,000 square-mile region, most of which is within New Mexico and Arizona borders.

Dustin Jansen, director for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, speaks at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Dustin Jansen, director for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, speaks at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
Trent Nelson

The state has tested 203,507 people throughout Utah, with an average 5% positivity rate the past week. From Wednesday to Thursday, the positivity rate is around 4.4%. Mobile testing has been the focus in the Navajo Nation area, resulting in a higher number of positive tests more recently, and particularly in that area.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said people in that area of the state should “follow all the tribal health directives.”

The Utah Farm Bureau’s Farmers Feeding Utah initiative has delivered 16,000 pounds of frozen lamb and 300 live sheep, as well as 10,000 pounds of flour and weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables to the Navajo Nation and will continue with more, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday. He said the program aims to “sustain farmers and help families in need.”

With supply chains shut down, many local farmers are without a way to sell their products and Cox said Utah has “more families than ever in need of resources.”

“This is just the start,” he said, adding that food pantries in Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties in northern Utah have seen 20% to 30% increases in demand.

He asked Utahns to help with a $150,000 goal to supply those shelves — “it’s lofty, but no doubt, one we can reach,” Cox said. For more information or to donate, visit FarmersFeedingUtah.org.

“Utah is truly exceptional,” he said, adding that families have numerous opportunities to serve in Utah.

The health department has reported 106 deaths since mid-March — with two additional deaths since Wednesday, both men in Utah County. One was between 60 and 85 years old and the other between 18 and 60. Both were hospitalized at the time of their deaths, the health department reported.

One death, in the Weber-Morgan health district, has been removed from the state list for further investigation on the cause of death, Dunn said.

Of the 734 people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, 97 are currently being treated.

“I see a lot of reason to be hopeful and optimistic,” Herbert said, adding that there might be weeks before the state further decreases restrictions, though, some areas might be ready to do so before others.

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

  • Salt Lake County, 4,806; 433 hospitalized; 70 deaths.
  • Utah County, 1,777; 99 hospitalized; 17 deaths.
  • Davis County, 435; 38 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Summit County, 409; 37 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southwest Utah, 360; 31 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
  • San Juan County, 283; 30 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 276; 31 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 259; 11 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • Tooele County, 122; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Bear River, 117; 14 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 34; 3 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 23; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 20; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.