SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials reported 827 new coronavirus cases on Monday, but for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the state reported a seven-day rolling average of more than 1,000 cases.

Of 6,212 test results reported on Monday, 827 were positive — a 13.3% rate, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The high case counts have prompted the Utah Medical Association, the state’s largest organization of doctors, to join the calls for a statewide mask mandate, the organization announced Monday.

Monday also marked the first time in five days with fewer than 1,000 new cases of the disease. Mondays and Tuesdays, however, typically bring lower case counts due to reduced weekend testing and reporting lags.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,001 per day, and the average positive test rate is 14%.

Utah currently has 1,955 cases in students, teachers and school staff — 960 of which were confirmed within the last two weeks. State health officials began reporting those numbers for the first time on Monday with a list of statewide cases associated with schools by school district.

The highest case counts among school-age kids have occurred in those between ages 14-18, according to the data. Statewide, those ages 15-24 have played a large part in the state’s surge since K-12 schools and colleges resumed classes over the past several weeks.

Children and younger adults are also the least likely to suffer severe illness due to the coronavirus. Even as daily case counts surge, hospitalizations haven’t significantly increased in Utah, although cases in older adults are also now starting to rise. Currently, 167 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, 13 fewer than were hospitalized on Sunday.

Innate immunity

To understand the differences between how children and adults respond to SARS-CoV-2 and its resulting disease, COVID-19, researchers are increasingly looking at something called innate immunity.

Innate immunity is the body’s first defense against a virus. It kicks in within minutes to hours of the first cell in your body getting infected, according to Stephen Goldstein, a University of Utah scientist whose research focuses on immunology and coronaviruses.

It’s called “innate” because, unlike immunity developed through antibodies, it’s pre-programmed to go into action. The body then takes between seven and 21 days to mount a specified attack on the virus, Goldstein said.

“So in those first seven days that you’re infected, your ability to control the infection is down to how good the innate immune response is. Do the cells in your body know that they’re infected?” he explained.

But coronaviruses are “really good” compared to other viruses at preventing the innate immune response because they interfere with a cell’s ability to detect the infection, he said.

Another way the body fights off the virus is through inflammation, which can be seen in swollen lymph nodes. Some inflammation is good and helps the body fight off disease, according to Goldstein. But when an innate immune response isn’t strong enough, it can trigger an “improperly regulated” inflammatory response, which has led to much of the damage associated with COVID-19 in patients with serious illnesses.

Interestingly, innate immunity can’t be built or improved upon through lifestyle choices.

“It’s because the entire response — the innate immune response — it’s based on just your DNA, nothing changes. Your cells know it’s infected, and these genes know they’re turned on. But there are no modifications made,” Goldstein said.

Some research says that when you age, the innate immune response becomes a bit weaker, he noted. That may play a part in the difference between kids and adults and how sick they can get with the coronavirus. Some may also have reduced innate immunity due to genetic abnormalities.

Though we know certain people are more at risk — older adults and those with certain underlying conditions — it’s impossible to know how an individual’s immune system will respond to the disease even in those at-risk groups, Goldstein said.

“You have no way of knowing how your body will react to any particular virus because we don’t totally understand. Most kids don’t get very sick but some do,” he said. “A lot of older people who get the disease get really sick, but some don’t.”

That’s why it’s important we all take measures to prevent getting or transmitting the disease, Goldstein added.

“Just because regardless of how healthy you are, how confident you may be in your immune system, the factors that go into detecting who mounts a successful immune response and who doesn’t are not things we can understand or predict. ... The pattern of the pandemic shows so far that infections or outbreaks that start in healthier and younger people inevitably spread into older, more vulnerable populations,” he said.

Doctors want mandate

Now a total of 71,442 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed out of 817,461 people who have been tested for the disease in Utah since the pandemic began.

About a week after Gov. Gary Herbert again declined to issue a statewide mask mandate amid the surge in cases, the Utah Medical Association on Monday issued a public statement calling for one.

“Public health needs to be balanced against the freedom to do what we want. As a society, we have chosen to protect the public in many ways. We have banned smoking indoors and within 25 feet of entrances to buildings. We have banned drinking and driving. We have banned illegal substances,” Dr. Sharon R.M. Richens, president of the association, said in a statement.

“We have required the wearing of seat belts and use of car seats in vehicles. We have done this all in the name of public health and the interest of the general public. The mandating of wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is just another good public health decision,” she said.

Hospitalizations since the outbreak hit the state now total 3,757 Utahns.

Utah County again had the highest number of new cases on Monday, with 356 compared to 295 in Salt Lake County.

Some rural areas of Utah are also experiencing a rise in cases. Central Utah, which has seen low infection rates throughout the pandemic, confirmed its highest number of new daily cases Monday, with 14.

No additional deaths were reported on Monday, leaving the state’s toll due to the disease at 453.

Now 54,530 of Utah’s cases are considered recovered,after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses, meaning about 16,500 cases remain active.

New COVID-19 cases reported Monday by health district across Utah:

  • Utah County, 356
  • Salt Lake County, 295
  • Davis County, 63
  • Weber-Morgan, 27
  • Southwest Utah, 24
  • Bear River, 21
  • Central Utah, 14
  • Tooele County, 10
  • Wasatch County, 8
  • Summit County, 7
  • Southeast Utah, 2
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 0
  • San Juan County, 0