SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s top epidemiologist on Monday called out Utah County college students for contributing to the state’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
And as school is now back in session, a new federal study conducted in Salt Lake City found that even asymptomatic young children can transmit the disease to others.
“We are experiencing a clear upward trend in case counts right now. This trend is being driven, in large part, by an increase in cases among college-aged young adults in Utah County,” Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said in a statement Monday.
“Since last Friday, 39% of all new cases have come from Utah County, this despite the fact that Utah County’s population represents just 20% of the state’s population,” Dunn said.
“Most of these cases are among 14-24 year olds, and the majority of those are among college-aged young adults.”
Utah is also seeing an overall spike in those ages 15-24 testing positive for COVID-19, with that age bracket accounting for nearly 36% of the state’s new cases on Sunday and 48% on Saturday.
The age group is also among the least likely to require hospital care for the disease, health department data shows.
So far, Brigham Young University has reported 258 total cases among students, faculty and staff for its current term, with 218 still active. Utah Valley University, whose main campus also sits in Utah County, has a self-reported case count of 138 between staff, faculty and students as of Monday.
The universities, however, haven’t provided updated case counts since last week.
“Colleges across the state, and specifically in Utah County, have acted proactively to implement solid prevention measures on their campuses. They need help from their students to act responsibly while off campus. What students do off campus has a direct impact on a school’s ability to safely operate their campus,” Dunn said.
She urged people to avoid large, indoor gatherings and continue to follow quarantine and isolation guidelines.
On its official Twitter account, BYU said on-campus privileges will be restricted if someone chooses not to follow the school’s COVID-19 safety requirements.
“To date BYU has imposed disciplinary measures for 15 students who refused to follow these requirements,” according to the tweet sent Monday afternoon.
“These measures include suspension or restrictions from on-campus participation, such as classes, work or in-person campus services. BYU has repeatedly & urgently asked members of our campus community to please be intentional right now to keep themselves and our community safe.
“We’ve been clear that in order for this semester on campus to work, it will take a concerted effort from all of us, working together. We will continue to collaborate with state, county & city officials, as well as @UVU, to encourage compliance w/ health and safety guidelines.”
The university said the majority of students are following health guidelines on campus and said it is “imploring” BYU students to follow the same guidelines off campus.
Utah health officials reported 563 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths on Monday. The cases were confirmed out of 4,809 tests — an 11.7% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Now 58,438 of 721,682 people have tested positive for the disease in Utah since the pandemic began, an overall positive rate of 8.2%. The rolling seven-day average for new cases has risen to 487 per day, and the average positive test rate is 9.8%.
Even as the state has seen its cases rise compared to August, when the rolling average remained below 400, hospitalizations are down compared to one month ago. On Aug. 14, 171 patients were hospitalized with the disease. On Monday, 134 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of five since Sunday.
CDC child care study
Data collected from three child care facility outbreaks between April and July showed that 13 children who acquired the infection in a facility transmitted the disease to at least 12 out of 46 of their nonfacility contacts, who developed confirmed or probable infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which analyzed the Salt Lake data.
One of those cases, a parent, required hospitalization.
All of the children with COVID-19 had either mild or no symptoms. Two of the three children with confirmed asymptomatic infections also transmitted the disease to others, researchers said.
“Detailed contact tracing data show that children can play a role in transmission from child care settings to household contacts. Having SARS-CoV-2 testing available, timely results, and testing of contacts of persons with COVID-19 in child care settings regardless of symptoms can help prevent transmission,” according to the study.
The study also found that some child care facility staff members worked while members of their households had symptoms of COVID-19. The CDC recommends staff members and children quarantine and get tested if members of their household have symptoms of the disease.
When asked to comment on the study, a spokesman with the Salt Lake County Health Department indicated it supports the CDC’s findings.
“We do understand that it is accurate, and we know that children do spread COVID. And the message remains the same to the community, to continue wearing face coverings and social distancing,” Gabriel Moreno, marketing and outreach manager at the county health department.
Since the outbreak hit Utah, the state has seen 31 child care outbreaks — meaning two or more cases linked to one specific place, time and contact — that have resulted in 146 cases, according to the Utah Department of Health.
As of Monday, school outbreaks have risen to 56, with 260 associated cases. That compares to 38 school outbreaks and 172 cases tallied six days ago.
Utah’s death toll due to the coronavirus stands at 436. The latest deaths include a Duchesne County man between 65-84 who was not hospitalized when he died; a Salt Lake County man between 65-84 who was hospitalized when he died; and a Utah County man between 25-44 who was hospitalized when he died.
Hospitalizations in the state since the outbreak started now total 3,338, according to health officials.
Just over 48,900 of the state’s cases are considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses.