Utah’s COVID-19 hospitalizations spike, while new cases stay on a high ‘plateau’

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shoppers at Dan's Market in the Foothill Village Shopping Center in Salt Lake City pass a sign requiring masks upon entry on Thursday, July 2, 2020, as the coronavirus continues to surge.

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Tuesday brought Utah’s biggest increase in known coronavirus hospital admissions yet, with 49 new patients reported hospitalized since Monday.

There were 197 Utahns receiving hospital care for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reported, with more than 60 percent of the state’s intensive care unit beds occupied.

The state also reported four more deaths from the coronavirus:

  • A Salt Lake County man, between the ages of 25 and 44, who died in a hospital.

  • A Salt Lake County man, age 45 to 64, who lived in a long-term care facility.

  • A Salt Lake County man, age 65 to 84, who was not hospitalized when he died.

  • A Utah County woman, age 25 to 44, who was hospitalized when she died.

The state’s death toll from COVID-19 stood at 194 on Tuesday.

There were 564 new cases reported on Tuesday, continuing a 41-day trend of more than 200 diagnoses per day. State epidemiologist Angela Dunn had urged state leaders to return to “orange,” or moderate-risk, restriction levels if infections hadn’t dropped to a seven-day average of 200 new cases per day by July 1.

In the week since July 1, the state has averaged 545 new cases per day. Most of Utah remains at “yellow,” or low-risk, restrictions, with some rural counties at green and only Salt Lake City at orange.

In a radio interview Tuesday, Dunn said the decision to change restriction levels belongs to Gov. Gary Herbert.

In the meantime, she said, “We should all take that individual responsibility to help curb this epidemic.”

“We all are part of this solution,” Dunn told KSL NewsRadio. “We, as individuals, can save lives by wearing face coverings when we’re out in public. There’s not a lot we can all do as individuals to save lives, but this is one of them. We should take pride in that, and do it as a matter of protecting our loved ones and our community.”

Health officials are anticipating a possible surge of illness in the fall, she said, as flu season begins and Utahns return indoors amid lower temperatures.

“We don’t know what to expect,” she said. “We anticipated that this summer we would see a decline, but here we are in July and seeing our biggest peaks in Utah.

“The good news is that we are starting to see a plateau. It is a higher plateau, with cases around 500 to 550 per day. It is a good sign to see that plateau, ... [but] we want to make sure that our cases go from this plateau to a decline, so we can safely reopen our economy more and more.“

There was a sharp rise in infections following Memorial Day festivities, and Dunn said health officials were watching closely for any signs of spread tied to Fourth of July celebrations.

”We’re hoping that our message leading up to July 4th, around wearing face masks and taking a lot of precautions about not having mass gatherings, will not give us this surge of cases we experienced after Memorial Day,” she said.

Also, on Tuesday, Herbert signed a bill that will give nursing homes and other care facilities the option of discharging residents who refuse to take a coronavirus test. The Legislature passed the measure, SB5011, in a special session last month.

While presenting the bill to his colleagues in June, sponsor Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said that over 40% of Utahs who had died from the novel coronavirus had been high-risk residents in nursing homes — and added that 30% of nursing homes in the Beehive State had refused Department of Health orders to require COVID-19 testing.