SALT LAKE CITY — COVID-19 infection numbers remain at near-record levels in Utah, with 1,077 new cases and three deaths reported on Saturday.
While the case count was down slightly from Friday, it still marks back-to-back days with more than 1,000 new positive test results reported. Friday’s 1,117 stands as the state’s record for single-day cases.
In light of the record case numbers, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Saturday again renewed the State of Emergency declaration, allowing the governor to continue to take certain executive actions relating to COVID-19. His first declaration was issued on March 6, renewed Aug. 20, and was set to expire on Saturday.
The added fatalities raise the death toll in Utah to 440. COVID-19 has infected 62,852 residents since the pandemic began in late winter. Since Friday, another 8,213 people were tested for COVID-19, according to the Utah Department of Health. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is now 796 per day, with a 12.7% positive rate.
Currently, 137 people are being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, six more than Friday. Since the beginning of the outbreak, 3,477 cases have required hospitalization.
The three deaths reported Saturday include a Salt Lake County woman between 45-64 who was hospitalized at time of death; a Utah County woman, 65-84, who was hospitalized when she died; and a Washington County man, 45-64, who was also hospitalized at time of death.
On Saturday morning, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn took the stage at a virtual TEDx event in Salt Lake City to highlight socioeconomic inequities the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing into sharper focus in Utah and around the world.
Dunn said that Blacks and Hispanics are twice as likely as the white population to die after contracting COVID-19, and Native Americans and Native Alaskans are 3 1/2 times more likely to become infected.
“As COVID-19 has spread, we have seen worse health outcomes in already marginalized communities,” Dunn said.
Dunn said the disparate demographics of those contracting COVID-19 are, in many instances, simply a reflection of economic conditions. Whereas those with upper incomes are more likely to have both the flexibility to work from home and paid leave time to cover instances when they’re not feeling well, many individuals are stuck in situations where in-person work is required and they have fewer or no options to stay home if their own health, or those of their family members, warrant it.
Dunn said there are just too many people who are being forced to make the decision between following the best health precautions and maintaining critical paychecks.
“It’s not surprising that our hotspots of COVID-19 in Utah have occurred in tourist town apartment complexes where workers in the service industry live,” Dunn said. “And in communities where health and economic disparities have been prevalent for years.
“Protecting yourself and your family from COVID-19 is definitely easier if you have higher socioeconomic status.”
While Dunn highlighted risk and its association with economic well-being, she also noted the virus isn’t thwarted by neighborhood or income boundaries and the pandemic has “taught us that we’re all interconnected.” She also made a plea for a collective response to address what she sees as the underlying causes to the skewed impacts of the current public health crisis.
“I urge each one of us to use this pandemic as a catalyst to effectively address health disparities that have been fracturing our society for decades, yet magnified by COVID-19,” Dunn said. “Each one of us has a powerful voice and we must use that voice to strengthen those that society has ignored.”
Dunn detailed which issues should be prioritized in her call to action.
“Let’s do that by fighting for living wages, to support physical and economic security; paid sick leave so no one has to choose between staying home when they’re sick and putting food on the table; affordable housing to ensure that all of our communities are safe environments where people can thrive,” Dunn said. “And access to quality health care, allowing individuals to focus on disease prevention and general wellness.
“Because the health of each of us depends on the health of all of us.”
Update on teacher who fell ill
Saturday also saw an update on the condition of Corner Canyon High School teacher Charri Jensen.
Jensen tested positive for COVID-19 amid an outbreak at the school that has forced the quarantine of the cross country, volleyball and drill teams. While the Salt Lake County Health Department only specifies whether a school has more than 15 cases in a 14-day period, which is the recommended threshold from the health department for a school going online, at least two teachers told the Deseret News they know of dozens of confirmed cases.
Jensen remained hospitalized and on a ventilator Saturday, but her vital signs are “looking good” and her organs are functioning well, according to her daughter, Talesha Jensen.
“She’s doing good,” she said.
Talesha Jensen, her father and sister, are also recovering from COVID-19 at home.
“We are hanging in there, just trying to take care of ourselves,” Jensen wrote in a text.
In addition to continuing Utah’s emergency declaration, Herbert also issued renewals of statute and rule suspensions, allowing the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to maintain licenses should there be another closure of businesses; keep telehealth operating; suspend requirements that parole hearings be open to in-person participation; and allow flexibility to retired public employees to return to work without jeopardizing their benefits.
“It is imperative that state and local officials and health authorities implement measures to protect the health and safety of vulnerable individuals, including the elderly, minorities, those with underlying medical conditions, and students, educators and their families throughout the state,” the order signed by Herbert states.
The order also states that COVID-19 “presents a continuing threat to public health and economic social stability, which constitutes a statewide disaster,” necessitating the emergency declaration.
Going forward, the color-coded, phased health guideline changes and mask mandates will be issued as public health orders under the state health department.
The new order will expire Oct. 20 unless extended, or earlier if Herbert finds the emergency conditions no longer exist.
Contributing: Marjorie Cortez