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.
Utah’s death toll tied to the coronavirus reached 139 on Friday, and at least two recent victims were young people.
Utah Valley University student Trevor Syphus Lee, 27, died Tuesday. Lynzi Marice Isbell, who died June 7, was 34 and a mother of two.
The youngest known coronavirus victim in Utah was Silvia Melendez, who was 24. She died in late March.
Their deaths show that while the elderly are most vulnerable to dying from the disease, COVID-19 can — and has — affected young adults.
The Utah Department of Health reports the average age of those in the state who die from coronavirus is 73.9, yet those between the ages of 25 and 44 comprise the largest percent of cases.
Lee’s and Isbell’s deaths came to light Friday, as one southern Utah county moved into the “new normal” green safety designation and the state’s health department reported another 325 people contracting COVID-19 — and eight more Utahns lost their lives to the coronavirus.
Five of the deaths announced of Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported, were Salt Lake County residents — four men, one woman — of long-term care facilities, all over the age of 85. A sixth Salt Lake County resident, a man between 18 and 60, died in a hospital.
The other two fatalities were a woman, between the ages of 60 and 85, in a Weber County long-term care facility; and a Washington County woman, between 18 and 60, who died in a hospital.
Lee, who was a senior at Utah Valley University, had an underlying medical condition and received medical care after testing positive for COVID-19.
Lee previously served a mission in Brazil for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A GoFundMe page has been created to help his parents with medical and funeral expenses. Lee died “[a]fter fighting and enduring until the very end," according to the page.
“Trevor loved life and making people happy. He was a friend to everyone he met and wanted to make sure no one was ever alone,” his obituary said. He was a “fabulous chef” who loved traveling, arts and crafts and video games, and making holidays special and life interesting, it said.
A GoFundMe page for Isbell mentions that she was diagnosed with COVID-19 “a few weeks ago” and says “her body was too compromised to fight it.” She leaves behind a husband and two young boys, ages 13 and 10.
Isbell also loved to travel. In her travels, she fell in love with Hawaii and ended up moving there for a few years, where she enjoyed collecting shells. She was a big fan of watching — and laughing at — comedies and also baking pastries, according to her obituary.
But her greatest love, it says, were her two boys.
“She loved them with all her heart, they were everything to her,” it read.
Her GoFundMe proceeds will go toward supporting Isbell’s children and their father, Nick Alder.
The 325 new cases reported Friday bring the total number of cases in Utah to 13,577. Friday is the 16th straight day where the new cases topped 200. Before that, the daily count had topped 200 in Utah only once since the first cases were confirmed in March.
The state’s health department reported another 4,118 people have been tested for COVID-19, bringing the total to 258,786.
The Utah Public Health Lab last weekend was dealing with a backlog of tests, brought on by targeted testing of a long-term care facility and at the JBS meatpacking plant in Hyrum. Some 1,400 employees were tested at the Hyrum facility last week, and the state reported 287 positive cases of COVID-19 among those employees.
As of Friday morning, said health department spokesman Tom Hudachko, the public health lab — which can process around 1,100 tests a day — did not have a significant backlog.
“We have about 100 more tests than we do capacity for today,” Hudachko said. “But this changes daily, and we anticipate having more capacity than we will have samples over the weekend.”
Ideally, the lab processes a COVID-19 test in less than 48 hours from when it arrives at the lab, Hudachko said. “We’ve been at 72 hours this past week,” he added.
Also Friday, the University of Utah’s Division of Public Health announced it would work with the health department to train and field more than 100 “contact tracers” — the people who do the legwork to follow the coronavirus’s spread from person to person.
“Even while many people may feel that we’re on the downslope of this [pandemic], the epidemiological work is on the upswing,” Sharon Talboys, assistant professor of public health and the project’s director, said in a statement.
Gov. Gary Herbert issued a Friday executive order — which he had announced Thursday — to move Kane County from the low-risk “yellow” safety level to the so-called “new normal” or “green” category.
The sparsely populated county, which is located along the Utah-Arizona border from Kanab across the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, has had only four cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the Southwest Utah Health Department.
Herbert also ordered two San Juan County communities, Bluff and Mexican Hat, move from the moderate-risk “orange” to “yellow,” where most of the rest of the state sits. The only jurisdiction still in “orange” is Salt Lake City, Utah’s most populous city.
UDOH’s Friday report tallied 130 people with positive COVID-19 cases in Utah hospitals. There have been 988 people hospitalized in Utah since the pandemic began. The department reported that 7,935 people in Utah who have had COVID-19 are considered “recovered” — meaning the person was diagnosed at least three weeks ago and is still alive.
Lee’s funeral is scheduled for June 17 at the Tonaquint Cemetery in St. George. Grieving UVU students, faculty and staff can access counseling through Student Health Services; students can call 801-863-8876, while employees should call 1-866-750-1327.
Isbell will be buried in a small, private graveside ceremony because of COVID-19 concerns. Those hoping to share memories or send condolences can call into the Riverton-based Larkin Mortuary on June 17 between 9 and 11:15 a.m.