Utah reports 8 more virus deaths — the highest daily death toll for the state yet

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Face masks are recommended at most business in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Eight more Utahns have died from the coronavirus, state health officials reported Tuesday — the highest single-day number of deaths the state has seen so far.

That brings the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 88.

Tuesday also marked the highest increase of hospitalizations in a single day since state officials began recording data in March, with 24 more people in hospitals who have tested positive for the virus. It’s also the first time that hospitalizations have surpassed 600, with 619 people total who have been treated in hospitals for the virus. There are now just shy of 100 people currently being hospitalized in Utah.

Six of the most recent deaths were people from Salt Lake County, one man lived in Washington County and another man was from Utah County. Three of the Salt Lake County residents who died were living in long-term care facilities.

The remaining five had been hospitalized before their deaths.

The reported deaths don’t necessarily mean that all eight people died within the last 24 hours — just that their deaths were confirmed as COVID-19-related and reported to the state health department that day.

Tom Hudachko, spokesperson for the state health department, said Tuesday evening that while the number of deaths reported is high, the other data that the health department is tracking, like total rate of positive cases and growth rate, shows Utah heading in the right direction.

“It’s certainly tragic,” he said of the deaths. “And we understand that that piece of the report that we put out each day gets the most attention. But if you a look at all the indicators that we’re using to track [the spread of the virus], the majority of the numbers still look good.”

Salt Lake County continues to be hit hard by the virus, with nearly 70% of all reported coronavirus-related deaths being residents from the state’s most populated county.

But it’s San Juan County that has the highest per capita case rate of COVID-19 in the state, with four deaths and 238 cases so far in the 15,500-person county.

The new data comes as most of the state has started to ease up on restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus. Most of Utah is now considered in a “low-risk” phase, which means people can gather in groups of up to 50, businesses are reopening and team sports can resume as long as participants are checked for symptoms first.

The exceptions to that are three counties — Grand, Summit and Wasatch — and the three cities of Magna, Salt Lake City and West Valley City. Those are areas that have been hit harder by the virus, and are still seeing high daily caseloads, transmission rates, hospitalizations and deaths. Residents there will continue to be asked to stay at home as much as possible, at least for now, and limit groups to 20 or less.

Hudachko said there’s no evidence to show that the state’s highest daily death toll is tied to easing up on restrictions. He noted that half of Utah’s coronavirus deaths have been among people living in long-term care facilities, and most of those who have died have been considered “high-risk” because of underlying health issues.

“What it speaks to is the need to people who fall into a high-risk category to go about their daily lives with a little bit tighter restrictions than the general public,” he said.

The state now has 7,518 COVID-19 cases, 134 more than was reported Monday.

So far, 177,311 people have been tested for the coronavirus. In the last day, 3,289 more tests have been tallied.

The health department reports 4,275 cases — nearly 57% of all cases — are considered “recovered,” meaning it’s been three weeks since they were first diagnosed and they are still alive.