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Utah’s daily COVID-19 cases reach a record 7,247

Health department expects cases to remain high for weeks — or even months

Medical workers test people for COVID-19 outside of the Draper Senior Center in Draper on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.
Medical workers test people for COVID-19 outside of the Draper Senior Center in Draper on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. A stunning 7,247 new COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday in Utah as the extremely transmissible omicron variant continues to rage through the state.
Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

A stunning 7,247 new COVID-19 cases — more than 50% higher than during the worst of the pandemic last winter — were reported Wednesday in Utah as the extremely transmissible omicron variant continues to rage through the state.

And Utahns can expect to see those numbers continue to climb for weeks or even months before reaching a peak, state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen told reporters during a virtual news conference.

“All of the other countries that are being hit, you can see this really dramatic rise and many of them are starting to slow,” she said. “It’s hard to predict when we’ll do the same. Certainly, I think we’re going to have a few really bad weeks here, if not another month or two, before we peak and turn around.”

Nolen said she was not surprised by the huge number of cases reported by the Utah Department of Health, since the state has been seeing “a striking increase since the end of December.”

Still, Wednesday’s count far exceeds the daily record of 4,706 cases set on Dec. 30, 2020, and is more than the total number of cases reported in the first 68 days of the pandemic, according to state health department. Case counts have been surging over the past few days but had fallen short of the record.

44 additional COVID-19 deaths reported in Utah

Also Wednesday, 44 new deaths from COVID-19 were reported, but 23 of those occurred before Dec. 1 and required further investigation to determine if they were caused by the virus, the state health department said. Utah’s COVID-19 death toll is now at 3,855.

Nolen said the latest loss of life from COVID-19 is likely due to the delta variant, not omicron, since it takes time for a new wave of cases to be reflected in hospitalizations and deaths. The highly contagious delta variant is blamed for making Utah and the intermountain west the nation’s coronavirus hot spot in early November.

About 90% of Utah’s coronavirus cases are now believed to be omicron based on the analysis of test results by the state’s public laboratory and Intermountain Healthcare, the epidemiologist said, advising Utahns to “assume if you have COVID, you have omicron.”

Omicron is even more transmissible than delta, although it is also considered milder.

While that’s turned out to be the case in places like South Africa and the United Kingdom that have already weathered an omicron surge, Nolen cautioned that those nations have populations that are different than Utah’s in terms of age and vaccination status so it’s not clear how much less severe the variant might be here.

“I do feel that we can say omicron is more mild. The problem is, even with a milder disease, if you have a very large portion of the population infected, you’re going to still have a lot of hospitalizations,” she said, which would be “a disaster” after months of hospitals operating at capacity and beyond due to the delta variant.

As for omicron’s impact on deaths, that’s also “something we’re going to have to watch and see,” Nolen said. Since other places are finding that fewer people who need hospital care for omicron end up in the intensive care unit, that “means less severe disease,” she said. “Hopefully, that translates into less death.”

But Utahns who have underlying conditions, are older, or are not vaccinated are still vulnerable to omicron, Nolen said.

“Those people, we worry they could still be at risk of death,” she said, encouraging everyone “to do all they can to protect themselves” against the new variant that showed up in Utah shortly after being first identified in South Africa around Thanksgiving.

People in a long line of cars wait to get tested for COVID-19 outside of the Draper Senior Center in Draper as omicron cases surge on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.
People in a long line of cars wait to get tested for COVID-19 outside of the Draper Senior Center in Draper as omicron cases surge on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.
Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

How to protect yourself against omicron

“We have the tools to combat Omicron, but they don’t work if people won’t use them. If, for whatever reason, you have been putting off vaccination or getting boosted, it is clearly time for you to act. Vaccinations and boosters have been shown to reduce cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Nolen said.

She called getting the initial vaccinations against the virus — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson — along with booster shots, “the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community.”

Only about a third of the nearly 59% of all Utahns who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received their booster shots. Nolen said the extra dose is especially important now because the omicron variant appears to be able to “go around” that base level of protection.

That means breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in those who are vaccinated may go up, too.

“We do know there is no such thing as a perfect vaccine,” she said. “But we also know these vaccines keep people from getting really ill. That’s really our goal, is we want to keep people out of the hospital. We even want to keep them out of the doctor’s office and we certainly want to keep them from dying.”

For someone who’s gotten the shots, Nolen said omicron might mean “just a cold for five days. To me, that’s a win.”

In addition to the shots, she said Utahns should also be wearing masks in public and rethink their plans to minimize their exposure to others. Children, who can be vaccinated as young as 5 years old and soon will be able to get a booster shot if they’re at least 12, should also be wearing masks in school, she said.

Utah has already been feeling the effects of omicron. The spike in cases has jammed testing sites along the Wasatch Front, causing some to distribute home test kits to those who want to avoid long waits. Because home test results are not reported to the state, Nolen said Utah’s actual number of cases is much higher.

On Tuesday, the University of Utah Health officials said several hundred hospital employees were out sick with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated and wearing protective gear, so the number of available beds had to be reduced and some surgeries postponed even as admissions for virus have jumped 400% since Christmas.

Utah’s latest COVID-19 numbers

The 7,247 new cases reported Wednesday bring the state’s total case count to 663,654 since the start of the pandemic nearly three years ago. School-aged children account for 973 of the new cases, with 361 cases in 5-10 year olds, 193 cases in 11-13 year olds, and 419 cases in 14-17 year olds.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now at 4,317 per day, with 19,906 more people tested and 37,578 more tests conducted since Tuesday. That puts the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests at 22.9% when all results are included and 15.5% when multiple results by an individual are excluded.

Currently, there are 495 people hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19. The 44 deaths reported Wednesday, including the 23 that occurred prior to Dec. 1, 2021 but required more investigation to determine whether the virus was the cause, are:

  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 45 and -64, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Utah County man, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 45 and 64, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Utah County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Davis County woman, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Utah County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Utah County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Utah County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Tooele County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Davis County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • Salt Lake County man, older than 85, unknown if hospitalized at time of death.
  • Salt Lake County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • Weber County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.