Saturday in Utah yielded another large number of new coronavirus infections, with 760 positive test results reported. This includes a record number for Utah County where opposition to mask wearing, regarded as an essential measure for containing the COVID-19 epidemic, has made national news.
Utah County added 198 cases coming after seeing at least 150 new cases on each of the past two days, indicating that county may be taking over the distinction as the state's worst hot spot from Salt Lake County, where the rate of new infections has been slowing.
“Today’s climbing case count numbers are concerning for [the Utah County Health Department] and an indication of the upward trend Utah County has been experiencing,” said department spokeswoman Aislynn Tolman-Hill. “Health officials recommend wearing a mask when physical distancing cannot be maintained, regular hand washing, good hygiene, and staying home when you are sick.”
Salt Lake County reported 289 new cases, or 38% of Utah’s total, on Saturday. Previously, Utah’s most populous county accounted for half of its new cases.
Among Utahns lost to the coronavirus is Gary Hatfield of Taylorsville, an 83-year-old retired chemist who who analyzed water and soil samples at the Bureau of Reclamation laboratory in Salt Lake City.
Rural San Juan County on the other side of the state has also been hard hit, reporting another death Saturday. Its death toll is nearly 10 times its share of Utah’s population.
Eight deaths were reported statewide, including three in Salt Lake County, although the number of people hospitalized with the disease dipped from 198 to 185. Total deaths since the start of the pandemic is 243, with 2,014 hospitalizations.
Weber and Washington counties each reported two deaths. So far this week, Utah has lost 28 residents to COVID-19, on track to exceed the record of 31 set last week.
Utah’s rolling seven-day average of new cases climbed to 617 per day with a positive rate of 10.2% of laboratory tests conducted. Of the state’s 33,332 case, 20,421 are considered “recovered,” meaning the person remained alive three weeks after the date of diagnosis.
On the testing front, 456,240 Utahns have now been tested for COVID-19, and increase of 8,434 from Friday.
Already afflicted with diabetes and Alzheimer’s, Hatfield succumbed on July 9 after contracting the disease at a nursing facility. He was the first case at the facility, which the family asked not be identified.
“It is frustrating,” said his son, Greg Hatfield. “We knew that it was a matter of time until [the center] got it, but we’ve been really, really diligent, checking everybody as they came, not allowing anybody from the outside, anybody but workers into the facility.”
The son put on two masks, a face shield, gloves and other protective equipment and went into his father’s room so the rest of his family could see Gary Hatfield over FaceTime.
“He got a final goodbye with everyone,” Greg Hatfield said. “So that was wonderful.”
Greg Hatfield says he supports Gov. Gary Herbert’s approach toward masks, making them mandatory only in those communities where officials have asked for it and for school children.
“The state’s a big place,” Greg Hatfield said, “and every community is different, and so to try to make everybody follow all the same rules doesn’t make sense. But I fully support wearing masks. There’s so many good people out there dying from this and there’s people out there who think it’s a hoax, which is just amazing.”
Gary Hatfield’s oldest daughter, Karen Nowling, a registered nurse who has spent much of her career in end-of-life care, said her parents discussed with their children years ago the treatments they did and did not want to receive in their final days. Her father had said he did not want to be kept alive with a ventilator, Nowling said, and the family was comfortable with the decision to not put him on one after contracting COVID-19.
“He would have been miserable in the ICU with a tube down his throat,” Nowling said. “He wouldn’t have survived that anyway.”