Coronavirus in Utah: Cases and deaths see slow increases as Utah experiences largest weekly toll yet

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign at Liberty Park reminds visitors to keep 6 ft apart, Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

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As the Memorial Day holiday approached, Utah had its worst week yet in terms of both deaths and positive cases due to COVID-19.

Overall, the state has seen 1,154 cases in the past seven days after the Utah Department of Health reported 132 more on Sunday. That compares with 987; 1,076; 1,052; and 1,054 new cases in each of the past four weeks, respectively. Utah now has seen 8,392 coronavirus cases.

As the number of cases has increased, so too has the percentage of Utahns who tested positive — the number of tests performed has stayed stagnant or even dropped in some cases. This week, 4.8% of Utahns who took a viral test got a positive result, compared with 3.2% in mid-April. About 3,300 tests were performed per day this week.

Meanwhile, 17 people died over the past week, though no more deaths were reported Sunday. That ties the highest number of deaths reported in any week of the pandemic in Utah. The previous four weeks saw 13, 17, 9 and 14 people die, respectively. Overall, 97 people have now died in Utah due to COVID-19.

“We’re not back to normal, and I’m not sure we’ll ever get back to what we thought was normal,” Gov. Gary Herbert has said. “We’re in the middle of an emergency, still.”

While cases and deaths have steadily increased, the good news is that Utah has avoided the kind of rapid exponential growth in cases that would overwhelm the local medical system. There were 12 new hospitalizations reported Sunday, meaning that there are 96 people currently hospitalized for the disease.

The case and hospitalization numbers are ones to watch moving forward. As most of Utah moved from the moderate risk category labeled “orange” to the low-risk category labeled “yellow,” more businesses were allowed to open and restrictions were further lessened beginning on May 16.

Some hypothesize that those actions will result in a delayed explosion of cases — the coronavirus takes two to 14 days to go from infecting a person to that person showing symptoms. There is also typically a short reporting delay as tests are processed and reported to the state.

Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Grand County are the three areas of Utah that remain at the “orange” risk level.

On Monday or Tuesday, the U.S. looks poised to pass the milestone of 100,000 dead as a result of the coronavirus; more than 97,000 have died so far. Daily deaths overall in the nation are decreasing, though, thanks to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania seeing downswings after experiencing heavy losses earlier in the pandemic.

But there are places where the virus’ impact is only starting to grow now. That includes Midwest states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, as well as metro areas like Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; and Chicago.

The White House said Sunday that it is likely to ban travel from Brazil to the U.S. after an explosion in cases in the South American country. About 350,000 people have tested positive for the disease there, a number that ranks second among any country. No. 1 is the U.S., with 1.63 million cases so far.

In Utah, however, government leadership is optimistic. “I can promise you, we’ll recover faster than any other state in America,” Herbert said.