While there are new reports that the latest surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States may have peaked, the highly contagious delta variant continues to race through Utah, claiming the life of a Salt Lake County teenager who was not vaccinated against the virus.

Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said Thursday the department would not discuss “the tragic death of a minor,” but confirmed the COVID-19 death of a county resident 12 to 17 years old who was not vaccinated and had no known underlying conditions.

Because the Utah Department of Health also reported the death of a Salt Lake County female 15 to 24 years old who was hospitalized at the time of her death, the young victim of the virus is believed to be between 15 and 17 years old.

Salt Lake County boy is state’s first COVID-19 child death

This is the second death from COVID-19 of someone in the state under 18 years old. In March, a Salt Lake County boy between 1 and 14 years old died from the virus. He was hospitalized at the time of his death, according to the state health department.

Rupp had a message for parents.

“If your children are eligible but have not yet been vaccinated, please get them protected; the vaccine is safe and widely available through the community,” he said. The age limit for vaccinations against COVID-19 was lowered from 16 to 12 in May.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson echoed that plea in a statement.

“My heart is broken to learn that another child has died from COVID in Salt Lake County. Please protect your family by vaccinating those who are eligible,” the county leader said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also weighed in, tweeting, “Today’s news that a teenager from our county died is tragic, and my heart is with her family, friends and community. At her age, the horizon of life was wide open offering endless possibilities. Please protect yourselves and your loved ones.”

The death was one of 12 reported by the state health department Thursday, along with 1,687 new virus cases, including 413 cases in school-aged children — 162 in 5 to 10 year olds; 119 in 11 to 13 year olds; and 132 cases in 14 to 18 year olds.

Dr. Brandon Webb, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, said the death of a second school-aged youth in the state shows why Utahns should be vaccinated and continue to take precautions against spreading the virus, such as wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

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“It’s tragic,” Webb said. “Any loss of life due to this terrible disease is tragic. I think it continues to reinforce the importance of doing everything we can as quickly as we can to curtail the spread of this infection and to prevent the continued impact on our lives and livelihoods.”

Has the delta variant peaked?

Precautions are needed even though there’s the possibility the delta variant may be slowing, with number of new daily U.S. cases rising less over the past week than at any point since June, according to The New York Times, suggesting the surge sparked by the virus variant may have peaked since previous surges lasted a “mysterious” two months.

“We are hopeful,” Webb said, although it’s too soon to say that’s the case in Utah.

What he called the “immune buffer,” the combination of Utahns who are vaccinated against the virus and those who have had it, along with preventative behaviors, “are the things that we can control to accelerate how quickly we can get through this.”

But there are still “some really important wild cards that we really don’t have an understanding of yet,” Webb said. Those include what will happen now that the new school year has started as well as the change in seasons bringing fall and winter holiday celebrations.

“We need more time to be able to really accurately project whether we have peaked. And if we have peaked, whether we’re going to see a slower, flatter curve that’s going to just persist for a while, or whether we’re going to start coming down again,” he said.

Han Kim, a professor of public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, said Utahns need to think long term.

“Until we have enough people who have some immune response to COVID, we’re not out of the woods,” Kim said, adding he suspects there are many unreported COVID-19 cases. “So we need to be careful. To me, this is really a delicate time.”

He warned that if there is “a decline or a peak, I think it’s temporary. I think we will see further surges.”

Utah’s current COVID-19 rates

Less than half of all Utahns — 49.5% — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their final dose. There have been nearly 3.3 million virus vaccine doses administered in the state, a daily increase of 8,876.

Utah’s rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,317 per day, and 13,166 people have been tested for COVID-19 and 19,608 tests conducted since Wednesday. That puts the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests at 10.4% when all results are included and 14.1% when multiple tests by an individual are excluded.

Currently, 498 people are hospitalized with the virus. Gov. Spencer Cox said earlier this week Utah’s hospitals are at a “breaking point,” describing several hours last Friday when zero intensive care beds were available in the state for the first time since the pandemic began.

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Utah’s death toll from COVID-19 has reached 2,652, with the 12 new deaths — including nine under 64 years old — reported Thursday. All 12 were hospitalized at the time of their deaths. They are:

  • A Weber County man, between 25 and 44.
  • A Weber County man, between 45 and 64.
  • A Tooele County man, between 65 and 84.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 25 and 44.
  • A Utah County man, between 45 and 64.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 15 and 24.
  • A Utah County woman, between 45 and 64.
  • A Utah County man, between 45 and 64.
  • A Utah County woman, between 65 and 84.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84.
  • A Washington County man, between 45 and 64.