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 has again broken its record for the largest daily increase of new coronavirus cases — the second time that has happened in less than a week — reporting 676 positive test results Friday.
Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, issued a strong rebuke Friday, saying that the numbers mean every resident should be wearing a mask, whether it’s required in their county or not. If they don’t, she warned, the numbers will get worse. More people will die. Hospitals will be overwhelmed.
And it will happen soon. “We need large-scale behavior change on the part of all Utahns to reverse this trend,” she added in a statement.
With the number of cases continuing to climb, the state has also crossed the 20,000 mark for people infected. There have now been a total of 20,050 confirmed cases here.
Utah also reported two additional deaths Friday. The total is now 166 for the state.
[Read more: Perhaps only 1% of Utahns have COVID-19 antibodies, research shows]
The new numbers include a man in Weber County, between the ages of 65 and 84, who was a resident at a long-term care facility. The second was a man, older than 85, from Salt Lake County who was also staying at a health care facility, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The state’s data shows that 194 of those facilities have had outbreaks, with 70 of the deaths attributed to them.
Prior to Friday, the previous daily record for new cases had been last Saturday, with 643 total. The days in between, though, have also seen large jumps, such as 590 cases on Thursday and 484 on Wednesday.
“These cases affect ALL Utah residents,” Dunn said. “They have the potential to threaten our economy, and our ability to ensure people can receive the care they need in our hospitals. … Each one of these cases inches us closer to maxing out our hospital capacity. If this happens, some Utahns who need hospital care may not be able to get it.”
FULL STATEMENT FROM DR. ANGELA DUNN
For the second time in a week, we are announcing our highest daily case count total. These cases affect ALL Utah residents. They have the potential to threaten our economy, and our ability to ensure people can receive the care they need in our hospitals.
Each one of these cases represents a household that will now be required to quarantine. This means parents will be unable to go to work and children will be unable to see their friends. Each one of these cases inches us closer to maxing out our hospital capacity. If this happens, some Utahns who need hospital care may not be able to get it. And each one of these cases poses a clear and significant danger to somebody who falls into a high-risk category.
We need large-scale behavior change on the part of all Utahns to reverse this trend. Everyone, whether it's required in your county or not, needs to be wearing a mask in order to help protect those around you. Everyone should be practicing physical distancing, staying home if they're sick, and washing their hands regularly.
Coronavirus patients in Utah filled 174 beds as of Friday — hitting another record for the highest hospital occupancy yet.
Of those individuals, 80 are in an intensive care unit. And the state, overall, is now at about 65% capacity for those spaces. Since the pandemic started, 1,321 Utahns cumulatively have been hospitalized.
Because of the surge in new cases, Intermountain Healthcare said Friday that it will return to more restrictive visitor policies at its hospitals and clinics starting Monday at 7 a.m. No visitors will be allowed at hospitals, although accommodations will be made for child patients, mothers in labor, adults who need assistance and patients who are at the end of life.
Adult patients should go to clinics alone; children and adults who require assistance should be accompanied by only one healthy adult.
“We understand communicating with loved ones is an important part of a patient’s healing process,” said Shannon Phillips, chief patient experience officer at Intermountain Healthcare. She encouraged people to communicate via “phone calls, video chats, or texting, which are great alternatives to help patients feel loved and connected.”
As cases have increased and more restrictive measures resurface, there’s been an intense debate over masks.
Dunn is pushing for people to wear them. And the governor approved requests from both Summit and Salt Lake Counties to start requiring residents to have one on when they are in public.
[Read more: Questions and answers about Salt Lake County’s new face mask requirement]
Additionally, the state’s COVID-19 economic committee is now recommending that Utah spend $1 million on an ad campaign to encourage people to mask up.
“Wearing a mask is a simple act to protect vulnerable populations and livelihoods,” said the co-chairman, Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem.
But other counties and individuals say that’s an infringement on their rights, and one group rallied against masks at the Utah Capitol on Thursday night. There’s been pushback, too, against re-closing any parts of the state — particularly in more rural areas.
Despite potentially hundreds of residents being exposed to the coronavirus in Uintah County during a carnival this week, the commissioners there say they’ll continue to operate in the “green” or low-risk zone. And they won’t be cancelling a rodeo and several theater performances scheduled for later this summer.
“There are risks associated with many of the things we do every day,” said Uintah County Commission Chairman Brad Horrocks, in a statement. “It is up to individuals to personally decide what amount of risk is acceptable for them or take steps to reduce the risks.”
Still, residents who attended the “City of Fun” carnival in Vernal this week are now being asked to quarantine and watch for symptoms after nine employees operating the amusements there tested positive for the coronavirus.
The staff had been tested in American Fork a week earlier. But city officials in Vernal say they weren’t told about the results until after the event had already started Thursday. They shut it down, according to a news release from Uintah County, as soon as they received an alert from the TriCounty Health Department.
The event had been approved to be held at the city’s Western Park after the carnival’s operator presented a plan to maintain social distancing with the amusements, require employees to wear masks and sanitize the rides between uses. At the time it was given the OK, Uintah County was in the “yellow” or moderate-risk zone for the coronavirus. The governor has since moved the area to “green” at the county’s request.
The area has seen 45 cases of the virus and has one of the lower rates per capita in the state. San Juan County in southern Utah, meanwhile, has the highest. There, 395 residents have tested positive. That’s 2.5% of the population.
In Salt Lake County, the state’s largest by population, there have been more than 10,000 confirmed cases. But, comparably, that’s roughly 0.86% per capita.
Meanwhile, Utah County saw its biggest spike Friday with 134 news cases, for a total of 3,675 there.
Dunn has said that Utah’s cases across the state need to average less than 200 a day before July 1 — or she recommends tightening restrictions again on businesses and residents. Realistically, considering the increases, that average won’t be met.
—Tribune reporter Scott D. Pierce contributed to this report.