Coronavirus cases spike in Utah, with Friday’s increase the biggest yet

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) COVID-19 testing at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem on Friday, June 12, 2020.

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Friday marked the biggest single-day increase in coronavirus cases reported in Utah, with state health officials tallying 586 new diagnoses.

The new record continues a trend of an elevated number of cases; only one day in the past 10 brought fewer than 300 new diagnoses in Utah. And it’s been 23 days since the state saw fewer than 200 new cases a day.

Gov. Gary Herbert, in a tweet Friday afternoon, said, “Utah’s case counts concern me.” State officials, he added, “are monitoring hospital capacity in our densely populated counties. Their risk status has not changed.”

Herbert also repeated his plea that Utahns “continue to keep safe by wearing face coverings, keeping our distance, and practicing excellent hygiene.”

The state’s COVID-19 community task force, in a thread on its Twitter account warned Friday, “We are at risk for overwhelming our hospital capacity,” which could keep Utahns from “getting the medical care they need.”

The task force’s Twitter thread called Friday’s case count “sobering,” and quoted Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, who said, “We are experiencing a real and dramatic rise in the spread of COVID-19 across our state.”

There were 149 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Utah as of Friday, down one patient from Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported. In total, 1,145 Utahns have been hospitalized, with 25 new patients reported since Thursday.

The previous daily record for new cases was on June 6, when the state reported 546. Almost 48% of Friday’s new cases, 280, were from Salt Lake County, which has seen just over half of the total cases since the pandemic began.

Utah’s most populous county has slightly more than a third of the state’s population — but the high number of nursing homes and long-term care facilities is one reason Salt Lake County has a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases.

The rising number of new cases in Utah is consistent with trends in several other states; nationwide, the number of newly diagnosed cases per day has grown from about 21,400 two weeks ago to 23,200 this week, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

Deaths per day are dropping nationwide but rising in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas, where restrictions were lifted relatively early in the pandemic, the AP found.

Utah health officials on Friday announced three new fatalities from COVID-19, bringing Utah’s death toll to 155. The deaths include:

  • A Wasatch County man, age 65-84, who was hospitalized when he died.

  • A Salt Lake County man, age 65-84, who was hospitalized when he died.

  • A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, who lived in a long-term care facility.

There were 4,673 tests reported since Thursday. In total, 287,358 Utahns have been tested for the coronavirus and 16,425 received positive results. Of them, 9,113 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for three weeks after being diagnosed.

Herbert signed an executive order Friday, one he announced Thursday, moving nine rural counties with low populations from the low-risk “yellow” safety designation to the so-called “new normal,” or “green,” category.

The counties are: Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne counties.

Sparsely populated Kane County was moved to “green” last week. The rest of the state remains at “yellow,” except for the state’s biggest city, Salt Lake City, which is at the moderate-risk “orange” category.

Meanwhile, University of Utah health facilities now require masks to be worn by all who enter.

“To ensure the safety of patients, visitors, and staff, everyone entering U of U Health hospitals and clinics must wear a face covering or mask,” university officials said in a news release.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise] the use of cloth masks to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of transmission,” it noted. “Individuals are also asked to physical distance by keeping 6 feet from others, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, frequently wash their hands, and stay home if sick.”