KEARNS — A record 722 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Utah on Wednesday, marking a new daily high and the opposite direction of a plateau.
Not to mention, nearly 25% of the new 2,911 tests were positive for the novel coronavirus.
“Today’s positive case counts represent another daily record, and further reinforces the need for Utah residents to be taking the appropriate precautions to protect themselves and those around them,” Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said Wednesday. She has strongly recommended that people wear face coverings in public since the pandemic began.
Dunn has also warned that the state may have to impose or reinstate increased restrictions should the number of new cases keep climbing.
“Please, wear a mask in public, practice physical distancing, stay home if you are sick, and wash your hands regularly,” she reiterated. “We are all part of the solution.”
More than 385,760 people in Utah have been tested for COVID-19 so far and 26,755 of those tests have been positive. The overall rate of positive test results has hovered around 7% for about the last month.
Daily rates, however, have reached 18% or 19%, but never as high as 24.8%, which was the daily rate reported Wednesday — when about 1 in 4 new tests was positive.
In addition, 25 people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19, increasing the number of patients with the virus in Utah hospitals to 199.
“There has been a dramatic rise in case counts in Utah,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said Wednesday. She emphasized that youth sports teams need to follow state and county requirements, including checking players and coaches for symptoms, wearing face coverings, washing hands and other good hygiene habits, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Face coverings are proven to greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Wilson said, adding that a face mask is “the responsible, safe thing to wear every time you leave home.”
Face masks were made mandatory in public throughout Salt Lake County in late June. That public health order continues to at least Aug. 20.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is considering a mask mandate throughout Utah and met with state government and health leaders on Wednesday to discuss the option. He has so far left the decision of wearing masks up to individuals, but not everyone is doing it and that could be contributing to increasing case counts.
Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying Utahns must do “everything in their power to slow the spread of this virus.”
“The simplest act of wearing a mask protects the vulnerable, keeps Utahns working, allows businesses to stay open and prevents our health care systems from being overwhelmed,” he said.
Adams said mandating masks would raise questions of enforcement and punishment, and lawmakers are working to find a balance between protecting citizens’ health and preserving rights.
“Let us rise to the occasion and do what we can, proudly and willingly,” he said. “I am asking you to help out by wearing a mask voluntarily.”
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, also issued a statement urging Utahns “need to remember that this pandemic is far from over.”
“The most effective way for us to keep our economy moving, to open schools, play team sports and to get back to normal life is to wear a mask when social distancing is not practical,” he said on Wednesday, adding that he doesn’t agree with mandating masks because rural locations are faring well without it.
Local officials, Wilson said, are better suited to make decisions related to their communities.
“In Utah, we prefer to encourage people to do the right thing rather than issuing mandates and demanding compliance,” he said. “We encourage all Utahns to consider how they can do their part to slow the rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19 and to make a personal commitment to doing their part to help us get life back to normal as soon as possible, protect the vulnerable and remain safe.”
Herbert has similarly said in the past that he hopes Utahns will “do the right thing.” He is expected to address the issue on Thursday during his weekly briefing at 11:30 a.m.
Health officials on Wednesday opened yet another testing facility in Utah — this time aiming at a more diverse and harder hit portion of the population in west Salt Lake County.
“The numbers are rising out here,” said Laurie Stringham, chairwoman at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, 5624 S. Cougar Lane, where the new testing center is located. “We’ve really seen a spike.”
She said the diversely populated area is replete with people who work jobs considered “essential” during the pandemic, including health care workers, firefighters and police officers, grocery store workers and others who haven’t been able to shelter in place with the rest of the state. Many residents, Stringham said, live in two- or three-income homes and must go to these essential jobs to make ends meet.
Certain populations, too, are found to be more affected by the novel coronavirus, whether because of cultural customs or something else, but the new testing site is situated right in the middle of what the Utah Department of Health has identified as a hotbed for transmission.
The West Valley City, Kearns and Taylorsville areas have exhibited higher numbers of COVID-19 infection, resulting in some communities maintaining tighter restrictions.
The new test site, which can test up to 550 people each day, offers the nasopharyngeal COVID-19 test free to the public.
“We want to provide access to testing to people who are the most susceptible,” said Josh Walker, chief operating officer at Nomi Health, the lead contractor for the TestUtah program, which is operating the new Kearns testing site.
He said TestUtah sites typically have little to no wait time because they schedule test time slots throughout the day. Patients are issued a unique code that is scanned upon arrival at the site and test results have been coming back within 24 to 36 hours.
The test itself, Walker said, takes about 120 seconds. Maximum wait times at the now eight TestUtah sites has been around 10 minutes or less.
“This is the thing we need to do,” said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. “The more we test, the more knowledge we have to protect our communities.”
She said the area has needed better access to testing to get on top of various community outbreaks.
The TestUtah model has been acquired in other states and Walker said the whole process is delivered at a third the cost of other testing sites.
201 Utah deaths
The health department also reported Wednesday that another seven people have died with COVID-19, bringing Utah’s coronavirus death toll to 201 since the pandemic hit the state in mid-March.
Three of those deaths were Utah County residents, including two men between the ages of 45 and 64, one who was hospitalized at the time of his death and one who was not; and a woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was living at a long-term care facility.
Two residents at Salt Lake County long-term care facilities, a man between age 65 and 84 and a woman older than 85, also reportedly died with COVID-19.
The other two deaths include a man between age 65 and 84 who was living in a long-term care facility in Washington County, and another man, between the ages of 45 and 64 who was hospitalized in San Juan County at the time of his death.
The health department counts 15,178 of Utah’s cases as recovered, as more than three weeks has passed since they were diagnosed.
More information about COVID-19, as well as all testing locations available in Utah can be found online, at coronavirus.utah.gov.
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 13,343; 908 hospitalized; 122 deaths.
- Utah County, 4,894; 248 hospitalized; 27 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 1,840; 114 hospitalized; 14 deaths.
- Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 1,689; 62 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
- Davis County, 1,575; 98 hospitalized; 6 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 1,368; 92 hospitalized; 14 deaths.
- Summit County, 543; 47 hospitalized; 1 death.
- Wasatch County, 436; 20 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- San Juan County, 425; 60 hospitalized; 10 deaths.
- Tooele County, 304; 12 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Central Utah, 234; 13 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 59; 4 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 45; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.