Utah sees another spike in coronavirus cases, third big day in a row

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Department of Health suits up as it prepares to test staff of West Jordan Care Center for the coronavirus on Thursday, May 21, 2020. The testing is part of a plan to test staff at all long-term care facilities, with centers for memory patients and the intellectually disabled receiving priority.

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For the third consecutive day, Utah recorded more than 200 new COVID-19 cases. Saturday’s total of 269 is the second highest reported since the pandemic began and came after the state reported 343, the highest, on Friday.

In comparison, on Wednesday, shortly after the Memorial Day holiday, the number of new cases had been only 86.

The Utah Department of Health also reported four more deaths Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 112.

The big spikes in new cases come two weeks after most of the state moved on May 16 to the low-risk “yellow” category for COVID-19 restrictions, encouraging more people to leave their homes. But officials have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about blaming that for the spike.

Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said Friday that it could be explained by catching up after a lull in testing attributed to the Memorial Day weekend — and said the number of new cases this week is only a slight increase over the previous week.

Or, she said, there could be “an actual uptick in cases,” including outbreaks like the one happening at the Salt Lake Veterans Home. She has said the state was anticipating a rise in cases as restrictions loosened.

Jenny Johnson, spokeswoman for the state health department, said Saturday, “What we’re seeing in our numbers is usually a lag from when an infection actually occurred …. It could take up to 14 days for you to show symptoms of COVID-19 after you’re infected.”

With that, she said it is possible that moving to yellow status “could be part of the reason” for the jump in new cases. But she said a temporary drop in testing over the holiday weekend followed by an increase may be part of the reason, too. “We’re not totally sure.”

New data also show that the Bear River Health Department — which includes Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties — saw a big increase cases in the past two days, from 117 on Thursday to 190 on Saturday.

“As Dr. Dunn said yesterday, we expect as the economy opens to have potential localized outbreaks, which is what we might be seeing up in the Bear River area,” Johnson said.

She said that underscores the need for residents to continue caution as the economy opens more.

“We really need people to still be vigilant about good hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing a mask when you can't social distance appropriately when you're out in public. Those things are all really important,” Johnson said.

“If you have even mild symptoms of COVID-19 get tested so that we can identify cases quickly and help people understand how important it is to isolate or quarantine as appropriate.”

The total number of confirmed cases in Utah since the pandemic began is now 9,533.

The four deaths reported Saturday include three Salt Lake County residents and one from Weber County — all with underlying health conditions, and two were residents of long-term care facilities. Two were men and two were women. Two were older than 85, one was between ages 60-84, and one was younger than age 60.

Also added back into the state totals was a death that was earlier reported, but had been removed temporarily from totals for more investigation to ensure it had been caused by COVID-19.

The health department also reported on Saturday 10 more hospitalizations, for a total of 763 since the pandemic began. And 99 people are currently in hospital.

The state reported 4.250 more people received tests for COVID-19. That brings the total to 210,105, with a positive rate of 4.5%.

The state considers 5,995 cases “recovered” — which is defined as still being alive three weeks since being diagnosed.