SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox urged Utahns to double up on wearing face masks or upgrade the quality to help control further spread of the novel coronavirus — as well as new variants of the virus that are now circulating in Utah and the United States.
“The right quality mask protects the user as well as those around them,” Cox said during a Thursday news conference. He encouraged Utahns to purchase quality N95 or KN95 masks.
It remains unknown how well the available vaccines will work against the new variants, of which there are now several known, but it is clear the latest variants of COVID-19 are more transmissible, or more contagious.
The Utah Department of Health has said that about 10% of COVID-19 cases in Utah are genetically sequenced to identify the virus strain, but officials don’t believe the one that has been identified in Utah will become predominant.
The more vaccine and the more people protected with it, coupled with decreased spread, will yield fewer new variants in Utah, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, said Friday.
He said higher quality masks will help protect people from getting sick.
“Make sure the mask you wear is good quality, doesn’t come off your face and is made up of multiple layers,” Stenehjem said during Intermountain’s weekly COVID-19 update. A high-quality mask, he said, is most important in high-risk exposure areas with a lot of people, where physical distancing isn’t warranted.
For most people, Stenehjem said, a standard, disposable surgical mask will be sufficient, but it is a step down from the KN95 and N95 masks, respectively.
The N95 is commonly used in hospitals and is more costly and in short supply. It is tight-fitting and fit-tested to the user; whereas, the KN95 is not fit-tested and is more readily available.
Cotton masks that have become the norm, Stenehjem said, aren’t regulated and “we just don’t know their quality.”
“Look for those that are either the disposable daily surgical masks or look for a mask with multiple layers, a good seal on your nose and that covers the sides of your face and fits well,” he said.
Face masks are still required throughout the state, though Stenehjem said there may come a time “in the not-too-distant future” when they are not. He said it will take a concerted effort from all Utahns to follow public health measures and keep case counts low — lower — and continued distribution of available vaccine.
The health department reported 1,468 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, after another 8,768 people were tested.
The state has tested more than 2 million people since last March and 300,516 vaccines have been administered, including an increase of 18,719 since Friday’s health department report.
The rolling seven-day average number of daily cases is 1,509, with a percent of positive tests at 18% — the lowest it has been since before the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, or “the holiday gauntlet,” as Stenehjem called it.
Fewer people are also hospitalized with the virus, as the health department reports 430 now being treated with COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state. That is down from 446 COVID-19 hospitalizations reported on Friday.
At its peak, Utah was seeing 100 COVID-19 patients hospitalized each day, but that number is down to about 50 per day, Stenehjem said. He anticipates seeing a smaller number of people dying from the disease, as hospitalizations, intensive care unit utilization rates and deaths are lagging consequences of high daily case numbers.
Another eight people died with COVID-19, according to Saturday’s report, including:
- A Cache County man between age 65 and 84 who was hospitalized.
- A Davis County man between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was not hospitalized at the time of her death.
- A Salt Lake County man between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man older than 85 who was hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized.
- A Weber County woman older than 85 who was a long-term care facility resident.
For more information on Utah’s COVID-19 response, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.