SALT LAKE CITY — The same day Utah reported its largest growth in COVID-19 cases in a single day, Gov. Gary Herbert announced most of Utah will remain in its low-risk or yellow phase in the pandemic for at least another week.
On Friday, 439 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were reported as 4,690 people received new tests.
Before Friday, the biggest one-day increase was reported on May 29 with 343 new COVID-19 cases. Friday’s total exceeds that record day by 96 cases.
The state’s coronavirus case total since the outbreak began is now 11,252 out of 232,197, a 4.8% positive rate.
In Utah, 20 more people required hospitalization, bringing the current number of those in hospitals with the disease to 114.
Three more Utahns died with COVID-19, it was also reported Friday. Two were Salt Lake County men between the ages of 60 and 85 who were hospitalized when they died, and the third was a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was a long-term care resident, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“Today’s case counts represent yet another significant increase in the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist with the state health department, said in a statement.
The spike in cases comes as protests decrying racism and police brutality have drawn thousands of Utahns to the streets for several days of demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, prompting Dunn to release a list of tips for staying safe from the virus. Floyd’s death was also marked by Utah health care providers in a moment of silence Friday.
Northern Utah outbreak
One-third of the new cases have been confirmed in the Bear River Health District, which encompasses Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties. The area’s case count rose from 156 on May 29 to 491 on Friday.
Many of them are “tied to an ongoing outbreak we have been investigating at a local meat processing facility. Many of the workers at this facility match the demographics of who we know are at the highest risk for infection. I expect to see additional cases of COVID-19 identified as part of this outbreak, both at the worksite and in the community,” Dunn said.
The name of the meat processing facility has not been released.
The Bear River Health Department said in a statement that its new cases arose as 1,300 tests were completed in the last week.
“The first results of these tests came in late Thursday evening, due to a delay from state and private labs in their ability to run the tests. The delay in testing may result in an increase in positive cases in the coming week. While Bear River Health Department does not have the ability to run tests, they do have multiple disease investigation teams locally and from around the state working tirelessly to investigate and communicate with each positive case and conduct contact tracing,” local health officials said in the statement.
“The health department staff is making every effort to get ahead of this outbreak and reduce the spread of COVID-19, but resources are strained. Additional investigators have been recruited through the Utah National Guard, local health departments throughout the state, and a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC team will be located at Bear River Health Department to provide technical assistance, industry assistance, and investigation support.”
Local officials asked residents to “remain diligent” in practicing physical distancing, wearing a face mask, staying home when sick and washing their hands often.
“It’s more important than ever that employers provide safe working environments for their employees, and have policies in place that not only allow, but encourage employees to stay away from the workplace when they are sick,” Dunn said.
“For the rest of us, now is not the time to let your guard down. Social distancing is more important than ever, yet people seem to be taking it less seriously than ever. If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re moving about in public, wear a mask. It is up to all of us as individuals to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” she added.
In explaining why he declined to implement a commission’s recommendation to move the state to a green level or the “new normal” level, Herbert said: “Common sense requires keeping our current health risk guidance in place. We all want to return to more normal patterns of life as soon as possible, but we also do not want to take a step back in our progress against this disease and our reactivation of the economy.”
The governor continued, “A marked increase in disease incidence and in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 give us pause. We will continue to analyze data trends with an eye toward balancing overall health risks and protecting high-risk populations.”
As before, Salt Lake City as well as Bluff and Mexican Hat in San Juan County will remain in the orange or moderate risk phase.
But some rural counties could move to the “new normal” or green phase by the end of the month, according to state officials.
On Wednesday, after the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission recommended the state move into a “smart green” risk phase in Utah’s color-coded plan, the Utah Department of Health said a significant spike in cases over the past week should preclude any further loosening of restrictions.
Of the 13 health districts in Utah, nine experienced an increase of 15% or more cases in the last week, Dunn said Wednesday.
The Utah Hospital Association in a statement Friday also expressed concern at Utah’s sharp rise in cases and pleaded with residents to wear masks and practice good hygiene.
“We commend Utah’s citizens and businesses who are complying with these common-sense measures. But we all need to join this effort — not only for our own protection or even as a matter of common courtesy to those we meet, but most importantly of all, we must do these things if we are to stop the spread of COVID-19 infections in Utah. Wearing masks greatly reduces the odds of the wearer infecting others. But if we all wear masks, we protect each other as well,” the association said.
On Friday, Dunn offered a list of tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for residents who plan to participate in ongoing protests against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Protesters should wear face coverings and eye protection, use hand sanitizer, stay hydrated, and stay in small groups maintaining 6 feet from other groups. They should also refrain from yelling, and instead use signs and noisemakers. She also urged people to stay home if ill.
“Utah’s yellow phase guidance emphasizes taking common sense precautions so that we can safely resume regular social and economic pursuits. Under yellow risk status there are no economic activities that are categorically prohibited if commonsense precautions are in place,” Herbert said.
He urged Utahns to continue practicing social distancing and “good hygiene,” and to wear face coverings.
“I believe that wearing masks has helped to reduce the asymptomatic spread of the virus among state officials even as we have been working long hours together in close quarters,” Herbert said.
Also on Friday, health care workers at Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health joined others across the country for a moment of silence as part of the White Coats for Black Lives movement calling for an end to racism and for justice for Floyd.
“We have an opportunity to play a leading role in our community’s healing. By walking the walk arm-in-arm, all 41,000 of us can make a difference at the individual and collective level. We can start by listening to and truly hearing those who are hurting during this difficult time,” Intermountain officials said in a statement.
At the U., workers met in a courtyard wearing masks and white coats while they kneeled for eight minutes.
“We kneel for our patients, colleagues, family, friends and entire community,” U. Health officials said in a statement.
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 5,901; 510 hospitalized; 81 deaths.
- Utah County, 2,143; 112 hospitalized; 17 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 554; 47 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Davis County, 525; 49 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Bear River, 491; 20 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Summit County, 422; 38 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 353; 36 hospitalized; 7 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 317; 15 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- San Juan County, 314; 30 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
- Tooele County, 144; 9 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Central Utah, 42; 3 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 26; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 20; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.