Another Utahn dies of coronavirus, as state begins to release recovery data

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Walkers and runners exercise at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, Monday April 13, 2020

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Utah on Thursday reported its biggest single-day increase yet in hospitalizations due to coronavirus.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 238 Utah patients have been hospitalized for coronavirus symptoms, up 17 from Wednesday, according to figures released by the Utah Department of Health.

Among those patients was a Salt Lake County man whose death was reported on Thursday, bringing the total 21. The man was over age 85 and lived in a long-term care facility before he died in a hospital, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said in a news briefing.

“We’re working with the facility to make sure all staff and residents are tested,” Dunn said.

State health officials also are developing teams of doctors and nurses to be deployed to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities “in the event that they need a surge in medical capacity,” Dunn said.

The teams will allow staff in affected facilities to quarantine or isolate as needed without disrupting residents’ care, Dunn said.

The state on Thursday also began releasing new data, including estimates of the number of confirmed patients who have recovered — defined as those who have survived for at least 21 days after their lab diagnosis was reported.

Utah’s death rate is less than 1% of confirmed cases — far below the national death rate of about 5%. As a result, the number of “recoveries” tracks closely with the number of total cases three weeks ago. As of Thursday, 357, or 13%, of Utah’s cases were deemed “recovered.”

In total, 2,683 cases had been diagnosed in Utah as of Thursday — up 141 from Wednesday. It was the largest single-day increase since April 5, with Thursday’s newly reported tests up slightly over recent days.

There have been 49,678 Utahns tested for coronavirus: per capita, the tenth highest testing rate of any state. Amid pleas in recent days for more Utahns to get tested — and new, less-restrictive criteria put in place in order to qualify for testing — 2,064 new results were reported Thursday by the department, still well below the state’s 4,500 capacity.

State officials are developing metrics to determine when Utah can safely relax its social distancing guidelines, Dunn said. They plan to announce those benchmarks in the coming days, she said.

“We have to be flexible with our approach to reopening the economy and watch the data coming in,” Dunn said.

Robert Gehrke contributed to this story.