SALT LAKE CITY — A University of Utah official said he believes that, despite an expected “bump” in coronavirus cases due to school starting, the state “will continue to see a downward slide” due to mask-wearing in the state.

“I feel much more comfortable now than we were last month. Last month, we hit our maximum number of patients that we were taking care of in the hospital. We were ready for that, we had managed that. We’ve created separate space for those patients, and we also had additional providers. But now we’re back kind of to a small number of admissions,” Dr. Thomas Miller, chief medical officer at University of Utah Health, said Thursday during a news conference.

He said it appears masking “is really working,” as well as hand hygiene and other protective measures. For example, in Australia, where winter has already hit — along with flu season — the country has seen “very, very little” flu cases compared to previous years, Miller said.

“And we believe that it’s because they are masked up down there to prevent COVID, and that masking has also protected Australians from the flu,” Miller said.

Utah continued to see an uptick in new COVID-19 cases on Saturday as health officials reported 433 new cases out of 4,249 people tested, and two additional deaths. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is 406 per day, and the average positive test rate is 9.4%.

Although “we’re all struggling to keep our protective gear on because it’s unnatural,” Miller urged people to remember they’re helping those who are vulnerable by doing so.

Miller also urged residents to get flu vaccinations as soon as they become available.

Those who belong to minority communities in Utah and are essential workers have also faced a higher rate of infection, Miller noted, “and so it’s important that we remember how this virus is impacting some people in disproportionate ways. And so we need to think about them and protect them as well,” Miller said.

The COVID-19 infection rate in the state’s Hispanic and Latino community has fallen slightly from about 40% of cases earlier in the pandemic to 35.8%, according to data from the Utah Department of Health.

New cases

Since the pandemic began, 54,272 people have tested positive for the disease out of 683,965, an overall positive rate of 7.9%, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Currently, 120 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, one fewer than on Friday. Of the state’s nearly 1,300 ventilators, 206 are in use. Nearly 3,200 have required hospital care for the disease in the state since the start of the outbreak.

Though two new deaths were reported Saturday, a previous death was removed from the state’s COVID-19 death toll for further investigation. The state’s toll now stands at 420.

The latest deaths were a Salt Lake County man between 65-84, and a San Juan County man between 45-64, both of whom were hospitalized when they died, health officials said.

Just under 45,900 of the state’s cases are considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnosis, meaning about 8,400 cases are still active.

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

  • Salt Lake County, 177
  • Utah County, 130
  • Davis County, 31
  • Southwest Utah, 27
  • Weber-Morgan, 23
  • Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 12
  • Summit County, 10
  • Tooele County, 7
  • Wasatch County, 7
  • Southeast Utah, 4
  • Central Utah, 2
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 2
  • San Juan County, 1