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Herbert challenges Utahns to further decrease daily average of COVID-19 cases

587 new cases reported Thursday, 3 more deaths

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State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, left, and Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert, center, listen as Herbert speaks during a briefing about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns are helping to reduce the number of daily reported cases of COVID-19.

“We have something to celebrate,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday, congratulating the citizens of Utah for helping to reduce the seven-day rolling average number of confirmed cases to below 500.

He had asked for it to happen by Aug. 1 and it did.

On Thursday, Herbert asked Utahns to further help reduce the daily average to below 400 cases by Sept. 1.

“If we all work together, we can do this,” the governor said during his weekly COVID-19 briefing. “We need to do this.”

The Utah Department of Health on Thursday announced an increase of 587 cases from Wednesday. The total number of people who have been infected in Utah is now 42,915.

The state has tested 555,391 people since mid-March and is still testing between 4,000 and 7,000 a day, although recently the demand for tests has been lower than expected.

“We are cautiously optimistic about our decline because of the decline in testing demand,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Thursday. She said the demand is consistently low throughout the state. Other states are also experiencing a lower number of people getting tested for COVID-19.

“It could be that people are not sick and don’t have symptoms,” Dunn said, adding that the higher temperatures may be keeping people home and away from others.

She said the rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now 449, when just a week ago, it was 508. The percentage of tests resulting in a positive diagnosis of COVID-19, however, was at 10% on Thursday, whereas last week it was at 9.6%.

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University of Utah Health physician assistant Christine Tang stands in front of fans to keep cool as she waits for the next car to arrive at a U. Wellness Bus COVID-19 test event at the Sorenson Multicultural Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

While they’d like more people to be tested — particularly anyone who has had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 — a decrease in the percent positives, Dunn said, would “give us more confidence that we have this under control.”

Herbert said Utah is teaming up with the Rockefeller Foundation to acquire rapid COVID-19 tests that should produce results in 20 to 30 minutes, which would help identify infection much sooner than the up to three-day wait time of traditional laboratory methods.

There are 190 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized in Utah. The total number of people who have been treated in a hospital from the beginning of the outbreak is 2,554. The health department estimates that 31,619 have recovered.

Another three deaths were also reported, including a woman between the ages of 45 and 64 from Davis County who was a resident of a long-term care facility when she died; a Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, who was hospitalized at the time of his death; and a Utah County man, older than 85, who was also a long-term care facility resident.

The number of lives lost in Utah to the novel coronavirus is 330.

Requiring masks

Statistics have shown that a mask mandates in Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties, as well as in Logan and Springdale, have helped decrease the spread of disease there and in neighboring areas. Herbert said on Thursday that a statewide mask mandate is not off the table and remains “a tool in our toolbox” should the need arise.

He said requiring masks statewide would be necessary if the daily average starts to climb or get out of control.

“This is a pandemic,” Herbert said. “This is not a joke. This is a serious issue people are dying from and getting sick.”

The governor, who said he has always favored local control, has held Utahns to “doing the right thing” instead of forcing it. He also announced a more streamlined process of approval for Utah cities and counties to mandate masks and said he’s seen more people complying.

Health department polls, Herbert said, show that 55% of Utahns report usually wearing a mask when proper social distancing isn’t possible; and 25% say they always wear a mask when they can’t social distance. He said observers estimate about 70% are wearing masks throughout the state.

“I appreciate the good effort. It’s helped us turn the tide on the case race,” Herbert said, adding, “we can do better.”

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll published Wednesday found that 43% of Utahns believe Herbert should issue a statewide mask mandate. That’s compared to 36% who said individuals should decide for themselves whether to wear masks, and 18% who said they believe that decision should be made by local governments.

Many retailers in the private sector have instituted their own mask requirements for patrons, which has also increased the number of people wearing masks in Utah to help slow the spread of disease. Masks are also required in state-run facilities, including universities and liquor stores.

The Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has asked all members in the state to wear face coverings when in public and other faith leaders in Utah have made the same request.

“We can’t do everything, but we can do something,” Herbert said, adding that wearing a mask is a personal responsibility, an outward expression of care for others.

“We are in this together. Together we can, in fact, conquer this pandemic and get back to normal stages we had just a few months ago.”

For more information, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.

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

  • Salt Lake County, 20,082; 1,315 hospitalized; 186 deaths.
  • Utah County, 8,434; 388 hospitalized; 37 deaths.
  • Southwest Utah, 3,133; 177 hospitalized; 25 deaths.
  • Davis County, 3,129; 177 hospitalized; 19 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 2,740; 169 hospitalized; 25 deaths.
  • Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 2,246; 104 hospitalized; 6 deaths.
  • Summit County, 706; 53 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • San Juan County, 645; 83 hospitalized; 25 deaths.
  • Tooele County, 573; 28 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 545; 20 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 405; 25 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 173; 10 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 104; 5 hospitalized; 0 deaths.