Coronavirus in Utah: Three more die and nearly 400 new diagnoses are reported as part of ‘dramatic’ rise in cases

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

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Three more Utahns have died from COVID-19, the Utah Department of Health reported Sunday, and for the first time in two days, case counts didn’t set a new one-day high.

Still, over the past few weeks, Utah has seen a steady and unsustainable increase in cases, health officials say, including two consecutive days of record-high case counts this week: 586 on Friday and 643 on Saturday.

All those cases contributed to more than a 22% increase in case counts from last week to this one, growing from 14,313 last Sunday to 17,462 counted one week later, with 394 new cases reported that day alone.

The weekly average number of case counts was 450 — a record high.

The three deaths reported Sunday came from three counties: Salt Lake, Utah and Washington. The two who died in Salt Lake and Utah counties were hospitalized at their time of death, and Washington County resident, a man between the ages of 65 and 84, was living in a long-term care facility when he died.

The Salt Lake County resident was described as a woman between the ages of 45 and 64. The Utah County resident was a man between 65 and 84 years old.

The new fatalities brought the state’s death toll from COVID-19 to 158.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn called the state’s recent increase in case counts “sobering,” adding it “isn’t sustainable” and could overwhelm Utah’s health care systems, which was one of the main reasons Utah locked down in the first place.

“The only explanation for this increase in cases is that we are experiencing a real and a dramatic rise in the spread of COVID-19 across our state,” Dunn said.

The data shows that while testing rates have remained steady since May — numbers increase by about 2% each day — the number of positive tests are growing.

Another 3,518 people in Utah were tested for the coronavirus in the past day, UDOH reported. That brings the total number of people tested to 296,395.

The state also reported that 23 more people have been hospitalized because of COVID-19 as of Sunday, bringing the total to 1,184. Data shows 50.8% of all non-ICU hospital beds in the state are occupied, and 62.2% of all ICU beds are filled.

The rise in cases also comes as Utah has moved most of its rural counties — Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne — to the “green,” or “new normal” safety level. Kane County, along the Utah-Arizona border, was moved to “green” last week.

The rest of the state, minus Salt Lake City, remains in the low-risk “yellow” safety designation. Salt Lake City, the state’s biggest city, is at the moderate-risk “orange” safety level.

Gov. Gary Herbert on Saturday tweeted to encourage Utahns to wear a face covering to help slow the spread of the virus, saying he wears one every day.

“I know it can look and feel a little different. But data shows it slows the spread of this pernicious virus,” he said.

He linked to a government webpage, calling masks a “simple” way to protect others from COVID-19.

Masks, it says, hinder the flow of aerosol particles emitted through the nose and mouth, which are known to spread coronavirus.

“Because of this, most face masks being worn and distributed to the public are not necessarily intended to stop the wearer from inhaling the aforementioned aerosol,” the page reads. “Rather, they are designed to stop the wearer from emitting aerosols into the air and spreading the disease.”

Herbert announced the Mask for Every Utahn initiative in April, which gives a face covering to Utahns without the means to purchase or otherwise procure one.

Those interested can still fill out a form at coronavirus.utah.gov/mask.

As of Sunday, 9,659 of infected Utahns are considered “recovered,” meaning they were diagnosed more than three weeks ago and haven’t died.