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6 more Utahns die from COVID-19, even as state stays in a plateau of new cases

SHARE 6 more Utahns die from COVID-19, even as state stays in a plateau of new cases

A sign points people to where COVID-19 testing is being performed at Intermountain Healthcare’s Cottonwood InstaCare in Murray on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Six more Utahns lost their lives to COVID-19, health officials announced Tuesday.

Three men and three women, all with underlying health issues and all hospitalized at the time of their deaths, died as a result of contracting COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths in Utah to 56.

Four of those six who died were from Salt Lake County, one from Utah County and the sixth person was from Washington County. Four of the deaths were people between the ages of 61 and 85, while one person was older than 85 and another was between 45 and 60 years old, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Two of those who died were residents of a long-term care facility when they contracted COVID-19.

The number of new cases increased by 2.4%, which is more indication that the state is in a plateau when it comes to the rate of increase. The total number of COVID-19 cases in Utah is 5,449 with 132 new cases since Monday.

On Tuesday, officials from Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah announced they’d be using a test developed by ARUP to help identify whether people have had a previous COVID-19 infection. Intermountain Healthcare will be testing those patients in their network, which is a statewide effort. People must be referred by an Intermountain provider, but the doctors participating in the press call were unsure if cost would be covered through insurance or through direct pay.

University of Utah Health Care is holding a press call Wednesday morning. A news release announced the effort that will focus on four counties, although it didn’t specify which counties. In that release ARUP officials said they are testing between 600 and 1,000 people each day for COVID-19 antibodies, but they have the capability to process up to 25,000 tests per day.

While acknowledging there are limitations with this type of test, one Intermountain Healthcare doctor called it “another tool” in the array of tools medical personnel and officials can use to study how widespread COVID-19 is in the community.

“The science is evolving,” said Dr. Bert Lopansri. “In the next several weeks to months, we’ll learn more about what these antibody tests mean. Right now all we can say about these antibody tests is that you may have been infected previously with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One of the things I would caution against is rushing into your doctor’s office and asking to be tested for COVID-19 in the absence of any compatible symptom or syndrome or any high-risk exposure.”

The test they will use is performed on a blood sample and tells doctors whether a patient has developed antibodies to the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, said the testing can give public health officials “a good sense of what proportion of our community is infected, including asymptomatic.”

Lopansri said that regardless of what an antibody test tells an individual, it shouldn’t change their behavior.

“We hope people realize that this positive test does not correlate necessarily with immunity,” Lopansri said. “And by no means should it dictate how you interact with the community and how you perform social distancing measures.”

Stenehjem said administering the antibody test indiscriminately can lead to a higher false positive rate. The tests should be reserved for people who had symptoms similar to those manifest in COVID-19 cases or for people who were exposed to a case or cases.

Lopansri said people need to temper their enthusiasm for the tests until scientists better understand the virus and “that’s going to come with time.”

“It really needs to be a thoughtful approach to determine whether or not this is going to change the management of a patient,” Lopansri said. “Clearly, this is going to change over time as more data comes in.”

A negative test could mean a number of things.

“This could mean that a patient has not been exposed, an exposure has been too recent for an antibody response to develop, or that exposure did not result in significant antibody development,” according to a press release from University of Utah Health.

Medical professionals hope studying COVID-19 antibodies could help public health officials understand the new coronavirus better, including whether patients develop immunities to the virus.

“COVID-19 is brand new in the human population,” says Vincente Planelles, a virologist at University of Utah Health. “We still have a lot to learn about how to protect ourselves both as individuals and as a society.”

The first and most useful tool in the toolbox remains widespread testing. As of Tuesday at noon, Utah had administered 126,715 tests — an additional 2,504 tests in the previous 24 hours. The state’s positive test rate is 4.3%. An additional 15 people had to be hospitalized since Monday, but officials do not list which health districts were home to those cases.

The state has had a total of 456 hospitalizations, but state officials are still trying to find a way to report active hospitalizations, as many of those have been released while some others have died.

The state also reported that 2,387 people of Utah’s 5,449 confirmed coronavirus cases are considered to be recovered. Health care officials define this by taking all cases that don’t end in a fatality and considering them recovered if the person is more than three weeks from the date of diagnosis.

The state’s coronavirus task force is supposed to finalize what criteria would be used if the state’s situation worsened and Utah had to go back into a “red” response level after moving into what it calls “orange” — a situation that allows businesses to reopen with some caveats and continued admonishment to wear masks in public places, wash hands frequently, don’t touch face with hands, and keep 6 feet between each other.

On Monday, Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said the state was monitoring a spike in positive cases in San Juan County due to the outbreak within the Navajo Nation tribal communities inside the county’s borders. San Juan’s cases increased from 116 to 119, while Utah Navajo Health Systems is reporting 116 cases.

The difference is in who monitors and tracks those cases, with San Juan County working with Utah Navajo Health Systems to monitor those being tracked by tribal members in Utah being served by the health system.

Accessibility of testing varies on where people live. Tuesday afternoon, Daggett County discontinued its COVID-19 testing efforts, but testing is still available at Uintah Basin Health in Roosevelt and at the TriCounty Health Department in Vernal.

Salt Lake County announced a free testing event Saturday at the Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West, in Salt Lake City. The testing is free, but people need to make a reservation for one of the 10-minute appointments offered between 1 and 7 p.m. To schedule an appointment call 801-436-7118 (bilingual); 801-413-3248; 562-448-5389 (bilingual); 801-747-9547.

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

  • Salt Lake County, 2,832; 261 hospitalized; 35 deaths
  • Utah County, 1,171; 63 hospitalized; 10 deaths
  • Summit County, 382; 33 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • Davis County, 302; 25 hospitalized; 2 deaths
  • Weber-Morgan, 173; 23 hospitalized; 2 deaths
  • Wasatch County, 166; 7 hospitalized; 1 death
  • Southwest Utah, 121; 13 hospitalized; 3 deaths
  • San Juan County, 119; 12 hospitalized; 2 deaths
  • Bear River, 62; 10 hospitalized; 1 death
  • Tooele County, 70; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • Central Utah, 25; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • Southeast Utah, 12; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 14; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths

Correction: A photograph that originally ran with this article showing two health care workers at a COVID-19 testing facility incorrectly said the workers were performing a COVID-19 test. They were performing a different medical procedure.