Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.
For the past several months, the news cycle has been dominated by little other than the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Over the past week, obviously, other issues have come to the forefront.
But the novel coronavirus does not take a break for issues of social justice.
On Sunday, the Utah Department of Health reported 264 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the state — the fourth consecutive day of more than 200 new cases, and the third-highest single-day total recorded in Utah since the pandemic began.
The state reported 215 new cases Thursday, 343 Friday and 269 Saturday. Sunday’s figures bring the running total to 9,797 total positive cases in the state.
UDOH also reported one new death — a male adult younger than 65 years old from Wasatch County. That now lifts Utah’s death total from COVID-19 to 113.
The bulk of the new cases, as usual, came from Salt Lake County, with 124 of them coming from the state’s most populous area. However, Utah County also saw a sizable increase, with 59 new cases beyond the figures provided Saturday.
Worryingly, the “Two-Week Cumulative Incidence Rate” is now showing previously unseen hot spots in places from Logan to St. George. High rates (more than 100 cases per 100,000 people) have been established in Blanding, Logan, Monticello, north Orem, Payson, west Provo, San Juan County, St. George, Wasatch County and Washington City.
The Bear River area has shot up from 102 cases to 218 in seven days.
There has been a significant spike in new cases since May 16, when most of the state moved to the low-risk “yellow” category for COVID-19 restrictions, encouraging more people to leave their homes. That trend has escalated further still over the past week.
Indeed, with those four consecutive days now of 200-plus new cases, the seven-day average of new cases in the state is 200.71 — the highest it has been since the pandemic began. By way of comparison, just a week ago, on May 24, the seven-day average was 164.86. And a week before that, on May 17, the average was 141.
In all, Utah has seen 1,405 new cases this past week; that compares with 1,154 last week, and 987 the week before. The weekly number of deaths decreased by one — from 17 a week ago to 16 this week.
One potentially positive development is that hospitalizations in Utah have not seen an increase corresponding with the new-case totals. As of Sunday, it was reported that there 98 positive COVID-19 cases currently hospitalized. On May 24, there were 95 hospitalizations; on May 17, there were 98.
Nationwide, the figures are staggering, but perhaps also promising.
Per Johns Hopkins University, the United States has about 1.78 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 (compared with 1.63 million last week), and more than 104,000 deaths (compared with about 97,000). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the “the proportion of death certificates coded as being related to COVID-19 decreased for a fifth [consecutive] week.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted, “Maryland’s #COVID19 positivity rate has dropped to 10.9%, down 54.49% from its peak on April 17. Our state’s current total COVID-19 hospitalizations — one of the state’s key recovery metrics — have dropped to 1,183, their lowest level since April 15.”
“Fifty days ago, on April 12th, we lost 800 people from COVID. Yesterday, we lost 56. Sixty days ago, we had 3,400 people come into our hospitals. Yesterday, we had 191,” Cuomo said. “… The number of lives lost is down to 56, which is — in this absurd reality we live in — actually very, very good news. This reduction in the number of deaths is tremendous progress. We’ve gone through hell and back, and we’re on the other side.”
Of course, given all the mass demonstrations that have erupted across the country over the past week in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, The Associated Press wrote that “health experts fear that silent carriers of the virus could unwittingly infect others at protests where people are packed cheek to jowl, many without masks, many chanting, singing or shouting. The virus is dispersed by microscopic droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, sing or talk.”
“Whether they’re fired up or not, that doesn’t prevent them from getting the virus," Bradley Pollock, chairman of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis, told the AP about protesters.
One component that has contributed to the protests has been the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on minority communities. And that has certainly been the case in Utah. As of Wednesday, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Utah’s Hispanic community surpassed those of any other race or ethnicity — a trend that has only grown throughout the week. Hispanics make up 14.2% of Utah’s population, but, as of Sunday, they accounted for 39.4% of the state’s coronavirus cases.
By comparison, whites account for 78% of Utah’s population, but just 37.2% of its COVID-19 cases as of Sunday.
And, finally, UDOH reported that the total number of Utahns tested is 213,914 — meaning there is a 4.6% rate of positives. It also noted “6,137 of our cases are considered ‘recovered.’ " A case with a diagnosis date of more than three weeks ago, who has not died, is considered recovered.