COVID-19 cases shot up in Utah over the past week, with nearly 1,200 new cases reported since April 14.
That’s more than a 61% increase in the seven-day average case count compared to a 9% increase a week ago, according to the Utah Department of Health’s coronavirus.utah.gov website that’s now updated just once a week, on Thursdays.
New hospitalizations for the virus dropped just over 20%, however, and four additional deaths were reported.
A quarter of the 32 wastewater treatment sites where samples are monitored for COVID-19 now are showing increasing levels, and the percent of emergency room visits for the virus is up more than 25%, but still account for less than 1%.
Shortly before the latest numbers were posted, Gov. Spencer Cox said while Utah may see a “small surge” of COVID-19 cases, that’s no cause for concern. Utah continues to monitor the spread of the virus under his “steady state” plan that treats COVID-19 like the flu or other deadly diseases with limited outbreaks.
“We’re seeing small increases in some places, decreases in others, nothing that worries them,” Cox said Thursday during the taping of his monthly news conference on PBS Utah. He said while the so-called “stealth omicron” subvariant also known as BA.2 and its spinoffs have sparked some increases in the East, cases may be coming down there.
Utah public health officials are “not very concerned about that at all with our vaccination rates as high as they are, the natural immunity that has been conveyed in both the omicron and the delta surges. And in the measures we have in place,” the governor said.
“We will probably see a small surge,” he said, “but nothing that’s of concern to them.”
The state is increasingly relying on wastewater surveillance to monitor the virus under the governor’s plan, along with hospitalizations, now that most free state testing has shifted to private providers and many are using at-home kits that don’t require the results to be reported.
As of Thursday, the COVID-19 levels from one wastewater treatment site, in Moab, are rated as elevated, the highest level on the state’s risk chart while the Snyderville Basin East Canyon, Coalville and Timpanogos sites are just below, in the watch category.
The public should be taking “appropriate precautions,” said Nathan LaCross, the state health department’s wastewater surveillance manager, noting that vaccination against COVID-19 “remains one of the best ways people can protect themselves and others.”
But he stopped short of saying the actual levels of virus are alarming.
“‘Alarming’ is perhaps too strong of a word,” LaCross said. Moab has been hovering around ‘elevated’ for a while.”
Last week, Dr. Brandon Webb, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, warned cases would likely start climbing following the Easter holiday and not peak until possibly mid-May. Webb said what he anticipated was not a surge but “a swell in cases, a modest increase.”
He suggested daily case counts could hit 500, but this week, the seven-day average case count is just over 173, up from 107 a week ago. At the time, New York was seeing about four times as many cases as at the start of the BA.2 wave that spread through the East Coast and prompted the reinstatement of a mask mandate in Philadelphia.
Contributing: Katie McKellar