Utah’s COVID-19 cases surpass 10,000, state pulls in new contact tracers

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) In this Tuesday, May 19, 2020, photo, health investigator Mackenzie Bray adjusts her mask at the Salt Lake County Health Department, in Salt Lake City. Bray normally works to track contacts for people with sexually transmitted diseases, but she was re-assigned during the coronavirus pandemic.

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More than 10,000 Utahns have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, state health officials reported Tuesday.

The total number of cases stood at 10,202 — 203 more than on Monday, continuing a six-day trend of daily jumps of more than 200 cases.

But the rising number of new cases has not forced the state to use up its pool of government employees who have been retrained as contact tracers, health officials confirmed. In fact, the state workers who were reassigned to contact tracing from other agencies returned to their regular duties Friday, said Tom Hudachko, spokesman for the Utah Department of Health. They were replaced by National Guard members.

“We still have approximately 1,200 people statewide working on this effort. This number has been stable for several weeks,” Hudachko said.

Contact tracers interview people who test positive to identify where they may have caught the virus and to find as many instances when they could have infected another person.

Meanwhile, the state is finalizing a contract with the University of Utah for contact tracing teams to fill in for Guard members who transition off duty, Hudachko said.

“We are still meeting the contact tracing demand with this level of staffing, but are ramping up through our contract with the U.,” he said.

For the past month or so, contact tracers have increased the timeframe for which they investigate patients’ interactions. Previously, tracers reached out to everyone who patients said they had contact with during the 48 hours before they developed symptoms. Now they’re combing through contacts for the entire week before people show symptoms.

“Were any of those individuals sick? We’re trying to identify the source of where potentially they received the coronavirus," said Tara Scribellito, a nursing supervisor in the infectious disease unit of the Salt Lake County Health Department. “If we identify two or three cases at [the same] location, we can go in and do education and sanitation, and try to stop any [further] potential outbreak.”

Within Salt Lake County, clusters have appeared at a number of employers, from offices to stores, Scribellito said.

“We have seen it in all sorts of businesses,” she said.

For the most part, the rise in cases hasn’t led to a higher rate of infections where contact tracers cannot identify the origin. Those cases, deemed “community spread," accounted for 11% of new cases statewide for the week ending May 30, as well as 11% of new cases the week before, Hudachko said.

Since Monday, one death from COVID-19 was reported, but the state’s death toll remained at 113 because another patient who died previously was determined to have been a resident of another state, the Utah Department of Health reported. The man whose death was newly reported was a Salt Lake County resident, between 60 and 85, who was hospitalized when he died.

Twelve people were reported since Monday to have been hospitalized. That brings the total number of hospitalizations to 801, with 108 of those patients still receiving care.

The state reported test results for 3,679 more patients, with 221,791 people tested since the beginning of the outbreak.

Of all those who have tested positive, 6,319 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after diagnosis.