During the first week of Gov. Spencer Cox’s new “steady state” response to the COVID-19 pandemic that ended daily updates about the spread of the virus, 699 new cases were reported in Utah, along with 95 hospitalizations and 16 additional deaths.
The Utah Department of Health’s first weekly update showed that since March 31, all key indicators are down — including the seven-day average case count, by 7.8%; the weekly average of people hospitalized with COVID-19, by 20%; and the percent positivity of tests when multiple tests by an individual are excluded, by nearly 10%.
When it comes to the amount of the virus being detected in wastewater throughout the state, six of the 32 treatment facilities where samples are collected are showing increases, but according to the update none are considered elevated, and only two are at a level considered to be “of potential concern.”
However, Nathan LaCross, the state health department wastewater surveillance manager, told the Deseret News new data puts sites in Moab and Park City on the elevated list, and four sites — two in Salt Lake County, one in Davis County and another in Hyrum — are now on the watch list.
LaCross said people living in areas served by treatment plants in Moab and Snyderville Basin Silver Creek should not be “incredibly alarmed, but they should be aware that there are strong indications we’re seeing more transmission in some areas and take appropriate measures (washing hands, distancing, maybe a mask, etc.)”
The new data that came in after the wastewater surveillance risk level table on the state’s coronavirus.utah.gov website was updated based on samples collected Tuesday, LaCross said, adding it takes a few days for the state lab to complete its analysis. New samples were collected Thursday, he said.
A second state website, wastewatervirus.utah.gov, that maps whether sites are showing increases, is updated twice a week and is in the process of being redesigned to include the risk level analysis. The governor’s plan calls for focusing on wastewater surveillance rather than case counts to monitor the spread of the virus.
Another measure that’s getting closer scrutiny is how many people visit an emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms, the same way flu and respiratory syncytial virus is monitored. The percent of those visits fell over the last week from 0.66% to 0.57%, nearly a 14% decrease.
The state has also shifted most testing and treatment for the virus to private providers. When Cox announced his new pandemic response earlier this year, he said by March 31, the state would be ready to start treating COVID-19 more like the flu or other endemic disease that remains deadly but has more limited outbreaks.
Charla Haley, a state health department spokeswoman, suggested that overall, the trends reported Thursday are good news for Utahns.
“Case counts continue to trend down along with percent positivity and hospitalizations. The Utah Department of Health is encouraged by the trend and encourages Utahns to take precautions to keep themselves and their family safe, including getting vaccinated and staying up to date on booster shots,” Haley said in a statement.
Cases are rising in other parts of the country, including Washington, D.C., where last Saturday’s annual Gridiron Dinner is being called a “quasi-superspreader event” after more than a dozen guests tested positive for the virus, including Cabinet members and a top aide to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tested positive, joining at least seven other members of Congress who received the same result this week. Pelosi had appeared unmasked with President Joe Biden at a White House bill-signing ceremony Wednesday, but the White House said Thursday Biden tested negative that evening.
According to data compiled by The New York Times, about half of the states are showing an increase in the daily average of new cases over the past two weeks. With a 135% increase in COVID-19 cases, Washington, D.C., ranks only behind the U.S. Virgin Islands, up 243%. The only states near Utah with increases are Nevada and Colorado
So-called “stealth omicron,” an even more highly transmissible subvariant of the COVID-19 omicron variant that roared through Utah and the rest of the country earlier this year, is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be causing more than 72% of cases nationwide and is dominant in the region that includes Utah.