Utah’s first coronavirus death was a Davis County man over age 60

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Angela Dunn announces the first death in Utah attributed to the coronavirus, during a news conference at the Utah Health Department, Sunday, March 22, 2020.

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A Davis County man over age 60 became the first Utahn to die after contracting COVID-19, the state Department of Health announced Sunday.

The patient — who tested positive for coronavirus Saturday — was being treated at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful. He had underlying medical conditions and was hospitalized for two days before his death.

Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, opened Sunday’s daily media briefing by offering her condolences to the man’s family and praising the hundreds of medical professionals in the state working to minimize the loss of life.

“I wish there was more we could have done to protect your loved one,” she said.

The Davis County man, whose name has not been released by the state, was exposed to the virus through travel, Dunn said.

The Davis County Health Department is working to identify and notify anyone who may have been in close contact with the patient. These individuals will be asked to quarantine or isolate as necessary, and will be monitored by public health officials for symptoms of fever and respiratory problems.

Dunn declined to elaborate on the man’s underlying health conditions but said they were similar to those of patients killed by the virus in other areas.

There have been nearly 33,000 reported COVID-19 cases so far in the United States, and at least 416 deaths, according to The New York Times. Deaths have been reported in more than 30 states.

New York has the biggest concentration — nearly 16,000 cases and 114 deaths, according to the Associated Press. Washington had the second largest death toll at 94, with California third, reporting 29 deaths.

Worldwide, more than 328,000 people have been infected and at least 14,496 have died, The New York Times reported. About 150 countries now have confirmed cases.

Like residents in most states, Utahns have been encouraged to isolate themselves voluntarily for the past week, with schools, libraries and other public spaces closing to limit the spread of the disease. But while Dunn reiterated the need for that type of so-called “social distancing,” she said the state is still in a period of rising COVID-19 diagnoses as testing ramps up in the state. Residents should expect new cases to be confirmed over the coming weeks and months.

“We are in this for the long haul,” Dunn said.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state climbed to 181 on Sunday, according to numbers released by the Utah Department of Health. That is up from 136 on Saturday. A total of 3,689 tests for the virus have been performed.

The confirmed cases include 169 Utah residents and 12 visitors to the state, with 84 in Salt Lake County, 50 in Summit County and 19 in Davis County.

Dunn also confirmed that there is at least one additional coronavirus case in Washington County that tested positive Sunday that was not included in the day’s formal update.

She said it is “essential” that Utahns take steps to minimize social contact.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in cases, and we’re expecting that to continue,” Dunn said. “We’re in that acceleration phase, and we anticipate more cases before we see a deceleration.”

None of the reported cases in Utah so far have been health care workers, Dunn said.

After the first Utah death was confirmed, Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement expressing his and first lady Jeanette Herbert’s “deepest sympathies to the family and friends of this individual."

“The pain this family must be feeling right now puts into perspective the sacrifices we are all making to keep one another safe and healthy," Herbert said. “We encourage everyone to do their part by practicing safe health practices, including social distancing.”

And Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, wrote on Twitter that state leaders would continue to explore solutions to help combat the spread of the disease.

“We in Utah are committed to bringing every available resource to fight this virus," Adams said.

The Utah Department of Health reiterated the following recommendations for the state:

• An individual who exhibits any symptom of illness consistent with COVID-19 should withdraw from or be excluded from any physical social event or gathering.

• Avoid social gatherings or events of more than 10 people.

• If an individual has tested positive for COVID-19, each member of the individual’s household should self-isolate.

• Anyone over age 60 or who is immunocompromised should avoid contact with any other individual except to receive critical assistance.

• Everyone should avoid discretionary travel, including shopping trips (other than shopping for food and other essentials), and social visits.

Dunn was asked Sunday about the potential for mandating social isolation or imposing a lockdown in Utah, similar to orders issued in California and New York. She said health officials for the time being are relying on the discipline of Utahns to do the right thing and stay home as much as possible.

She also emphasized that individuals with mild symptoms should attempt to contact their health care providers remotely and avoid tying up resources that are needed for more severe cases.

“The vast majority of people with COVID-19 will recover on their own,” she said. “Their immune system will fight it off.”

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]