SALT LAKE CITY — After a World Health Organization official on Monday called asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 “rare,” Utah health officials joined others in warning that such spread can happen.
“Many people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. That means you can have COVID-19 and spread it to others even if you don’t feel sick. Please wear a mask in public to help prevent the spread of the disease,” the Utah Department of Health tweeted Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization technical lead, clarified her Monday remarks during a press briefing.
A number of reports performing detailed contact tracing are rarely finding secondary transmission, Van Kerkhove said, but it’s too soon to truly answer the question. Asymptomatic cases need to be followed “closely” to make a determination, and published research on the issue remains slim.
There’s also a difference between asymptomatic cases that test positive for the disease but never develop symptoms of COVID-19, and presymptomatic cases which do develop symptoms, Kerkhove said.
“We are constantly looking at this data, and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question. It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually submits onward,” she said.
The conflicting information regarding asymptomatic spread comes even as Utah last week saw a spike in cases, with the state’s record number of new cases, at 546, reported on Saturday. Officials have urged residents to remain vigilant in practicing physical distancing, good hygiene, and wearing face masks when in public.
The state confirmed 237 additional COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a smaller rise than the previous six days. Just under 4,000 more people were tested, of which there was a nearly 6% positive rate. The new cases bring the state’s total since the pandemic began to 12,559, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Three more people also died with the disease, bringing the state’s toll to 127.
The latest fatalities include a Salt Lake County man, described only as between the ages of 60 and 85 who was a resident in a long-term care facility; a Utah County man between ages 18 and 60 who was not hospitalized when he died; and a Davis County man older than 85 who was also a resident of a long-term care facility, according to the state health department.
Though fewer cases were confirmed, current hospitalizations rose from 112 on Monday to 126 on Tuesday as at least 14 new patients entered hospitals for treatment of the novel coronavirus.
Now, 7,391 people in Utah are considered recovered with COVID-19 after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses.
Those who test positive for coronavirus antibodies through serology testing — but who do not have active infections — aren’t included in the state’s totals, according to a spokeswoman with the state health department.
Though the state health department said several weeks ago Intermountain Healthcare and other hospital systems were performing antibody testing to determine when COVID-19 actually entered Utah and how widespread it’s been, Intermountain officials said Tuesday that “antibody testing is prioritized for individuals where a positive result would support care decisions or patient isolation and public health actions.”
Examples include hospitalized patients with symptoms of COVID-19 with a negative nasal swab test, health care workers, and those at high risk with known exposure to cases.
Health care workers and individuals who had a respiratory tract infection consistent with the novel coronavirus as early as December that was previously undiagnosed can also receive antibody tests if the test would “support care decisions,” said Dr. Bert Lopansri, Intermountain’s associate medical director for infectious diseases and medical director for microbiology, in a statement.
“At Intermountain, only targeted populations have been tested for antibodies. We haven’t conducted a survey to determine how widespread COVID-19 is in our state,” he said.
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 6,421; 534 hospitalized; 85 deaths.
- Utah County, 2,337; 123 hospitalized; 18 deaths.
- Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 795; 26 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 655; 52 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Davis County, 580; 53 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
- Summit County, 440; 40 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 408; 42 hospitalized; 8 deaths.
- San Juan County, 337; 32 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 335; 15 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Tooele County, 153; 10 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Central Utah, 48; 3 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 28; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 22; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.