Utah moves into top 20 nationally in coronavirus cases per capita, while death rate remains relatively low

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shoppers at Harmon's Market in downtown Salt Lake City are presented with a sign requiring masks upon entry on Thursday, July 2, 2020, as the coronavirus continues to surge.

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July’s first week was characterized by steady coronavirus growth, as officials worried a holiday weekend might lead to more positive cases.

On Sunday, the Utah Department of Health reported 410 new cases out of 4,592 tests. That’s a decrease from the previous Sunday, when Utah saw 472 new cases, though it’s unclear if or how the holiday Saturday may have affected reporting.

All in all, Utah saw 3,852 new cases over the week, a 5.8% increase over the 3,638 cases seen the week before. The new cases were also enough to push Utah into the top 20 states nationally in terms of cases per capita. Utah surpassed Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania this week, some of the hardest hit states at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, thanks to a relatively young and healthy population — as well as the recency of the surge in cases — Utah ranks 43rd in terms of deaths per capita. Utah’s case fatality rate currently stands as the lowest in the nation: 0.74%.

Three additional deaths were reported Sunday: a man older than 85 from Washington County who was hospitalized at the time of death; a man between the ages of 65 and 84 from Utah County who was hospitalized; and a Salt Lake County man between 65 and 84 for whom there is “no additional information.”

Overall, the Department of Health estimates that 14,187 patients have recovered from the virus so far — which means that there are 10,805 cases considered active. The state doesn’t have direct data on whether or not patients have recovered from the disease; instead, they consider cases that have not led to deaths within three weeks as “recovered.”

Officials warned of the impact that the July Fourth weekend could have as families gather for traditional celebrations, some without the benefit of social distancing or masks. “We had a #COVID19 surge after Memorial Day. Our hospitals can’t handle another one,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn wrote in a tweet. “We are spending the holiday weekend apart from others, outside in the fresh air, and wearing masks IF we have to go anywhere else. Please do the same.”

That’s something that local hospital officials echoed as well. “We need to absolutely, 100% flatten the curve right now,” Dr. Edward Stenehjem, an infectious diseases specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, said on Tuesday. “We cannot tolerate a big surge after a July 4 holiday. We just can’t. We don’t have the hospital capacity to do it.”

The worry is that Utah will see the same explosive growth in cases that has hit other Western states such as Arizona in recent weeks. There, directives were created by the state’s health department on how to allocate care to some patients and not to others if hospitals get too full. Those crisis measures have yet to be implemented, as the state is at 90% ICU bed usage this weekend.

In Utah, 186 new people were hospitalized as a result of the disease for the week. As of Sunday, 183 people in Utah are hospitalized as a result of the coronavirus, leaving 84 ICU beds full. An additional 54 are suspected of having COVID-19 but haven’t received a positive test yet. That means 64% of all ICU beds in Utah are being used right now, and 46% of non-ICU beds.

The average age of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 is 53.5 in Utah. The average age of those killed is 72.9.

Eighteen new deaths came as a result of the virus this week: 12 between the ages of 65 and 84, three between the ages of 18 and 44, two between the ages of 45 and 64, and one over 85.

Nationally, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS News that the U.S. “needs to accept the fact that we’re in the second wave right now.” Cases over the past week have exceeded those at the earlier April peak of the pandemic.

In response, mask mandates have appeared all over the country. That includes Utah, where masks are currently mandated inside of businesses in Salt Lake County, Summit County and Grand County. If consistently worn, masks could lower the effective contagion rate enough to cause the virus to decline in our communities — right now, each Utah coronavirus case infects 1.05 people on average, according to an estimate on RT.live. Even a moderate decline in that number would turn the tide of the virus.

That’s what led Gov. Gary Herbert to implore people to wear a mask during the holiday weekend on Twitter: “It’s an honorable act to sacrifice some personal comfort or family traditions this year as we face the largest pandemic of our lifetimes. All we ask is wear a mask!”