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Coronavirus rates increasing in some rural Utah communities, sewage data shows

Caleb Stepaniak holds a nasal swab as he and other health professionals work at the University of Utah’s Wellness Bus conducting COVID-19 testing at West Valley City’s Centennial Park on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Caleb Stepaniak holds a nasal swab as he and other health professionals work at the University of Utah’s Wellness Bus conducting COVID-19 testing at West Valley City’s Centennial Park on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — While fewer people are getting tested for the coronavirus than during Utah’s surge in cases — making true infection rates difficult to determine — data from sewage monitoring continues to provide a picture of SARS-CoV-2 throughout the state.

While rates in Salt Lake City are falling, many of the Beehive State’s rural communities are seeing an increased presence of the virus, according to data from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

As of the last update, sewage treatment plants in Tooele, Roosevelt, Richfield, Mona in Juab County, Springville, Payson, Heber Valley and Santaquin showed increasing rates of the virus.

Meanwhile, rates of the virus have decreased in samples taken from Salt Lake City’s treatment facility, according to the data. That aligns with the numbers from testing, as daily new cases have fallen in Salt Lake County since county officials implemented a mask mandate just over two months ago. While the county once accounted for half or more of the state’s new COVID-19 cases each day, the share has decreased to 40% or lower on average.

Samples taken from other county treatment facilities including in Magna, West Jordan and Central Valley show a presence of SARS-CoV-2, but not enough to show a trend, according to the data.

In June, the state launched a sewage monitoring pilot program along with the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University to measure genetic material of the virus at 10 treatment plants.

The virus in its flushed form is no longer alive, but copies of its genetic material get left behind. Officials say that even those with asymptomatic infections shed the virus in their feces. The project researchers found that trends in wastewater were consistent with known infection rates in specific communities.

Since then, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality has given weekly updates on sewage monitoring at 42 treatment plants throughout Utah, representing 80% of the state’s population.

New cases

Utah health officials reported another 388 COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths on Sunday.

The new cases were confirmed out of 4,770 tests, with an 8.1% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Since the pandemic began, 54,660 of 699,735 people have tested positive for the disease in Utah, with an overall positive rate of 7.8%.

The rolling seven-day average for new cases fell just below 400 again on Sunday, with 397 per day. The average positive rate of tests is 9.5%. Currently, 120 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, the same number as on Saturday. Just over 3,200 people have needed hospital care for the disease in Utah since the outbreak started.

The two deaths reported Sunday bring the state’s toll to 422. They were: a Utah County woman and Davis County woman, both of whom were between ages 65-84 and hospitalized when they died.

About 46,200 of the state’s cases are considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses, meaning about 8,400 cases remain active.

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

  • Salt Lake County, 173
  • Utah County, 125
  • Davis County, 24
  • Weber-Morgan, 20
  • Southwest Utah, 15
  • Tooele County, 9
  • Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 8
  • Summit County, 7
  • Central Utah, 3
  • Wasatch County, 2
  • Southeast Utah, 2
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 0
  • San Juan County, 0