Ten new deaths and another 566 cases reported in Utah, as COVID-19 continues to hit the Pacific Islander community

(Spenser Heaps | Deseret News, pool) Jake Fitisemanu, chair of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition and a member of multicultural subcommittee of the state's Coronavirus Taskforce, speaks during a press briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

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Another 566 Utahns have contracted COVID-19 and 10 more people have died from the disease, including a member of the state’s hard-hit native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) reported Wednesday.

Seven of the 10 people whose deaths were added to the state’s tally are from Salt Lake County. They are:

• A man between age 18 and 24 who was not hospitalized when he died.

• A man between 45 and 64 who was in a long-term care facility.

• A man between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized when he died.

• A man between 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized but had been a resident of a long-term care facility.

• A man between 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized when he died.

• A woman older than 85 who was not hospitalized, but had been a resident of a long-term care facility.

• A woman between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized when she died.

The other three new deaths are:

• A Davis County woman, between 65 and 84, who was not hospitalized when she died.

• A Sevier County woman, between 45 and 64, who was not hospitalized but was a resident of a long-term care facility.

• A Weber County man, between 65 and 84, who was hospitalized and had been a resident of a long-term care facility.

The new deaths raise the overall death toll to 260. That’s nine more than the previous day, said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, because one death listed Tuesday has been pulled off the list, pending an investigation by the state’s medical examiner.

The Salt Lake County man who was less than 25 years old is one of the youngest Utahns to die from the coronavirus. Dunn said on Twitter later Wednesday night: “This individual had very serious underlying medical conditions and passed away at home.”

Another of the fatalities was a member of Utah’s native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community — a demographic that has suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 isn’t impacting all groups with the same level of severity, and native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are among the hardest hit in our state today,” Jake Fitisemanu, a West Valley City councilman and chairman of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, said at the state’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

As of Wednesday, Utah’s native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community accounted for 3.9% of the state’s COVID-19 cases, though they make up only 1.6% of the state’s population.

Pacific Islanders also record higher per capita rates of hospitalizations and fatalities — 113.9 hospitalizations and 10.1 fatalities for every 1,000 cases, compared with the statewide average of 60 hospitalizations and 7.3 fatalities per 1,000 cases.

Of the 260 Utahns who have died from COVID-19, 14 are from the state’s Pacific Islander community. Put another way, the per capita mortality rate for Utah’s Pacific Islander community is at 27.9 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with the statewide rate of 8.2 deaths.

Fitisemanu, who sits on the multicultural committee of Utah’s coronavirus task force, cited several reasons why the Pacific Islander community is particularly susceptible to the virus.

He said many in the community live in multigenerational homes, and work “essential” jobs, so they’re prone to catching COVID-19. And they often have underlying health issues, he said, which make it more likely they will get sicker if they catch it.

Fitisemanu also referred to the community’s “cultural practices and customs that simply aren’t aligned with the tenets of social distancing.”

However, Fitisemanu said, Pacific Islanders are resilient, and have battled pandemics before. He told the story of Mālō Ma’aelopa, a Samoan who survived the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed one out of every five people in Samoa. Ma’aelopa’s great-granddaughter, Luisa, is a community health worker “on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, right here in Utah,” Fitisemanu said.

“History teaches us that the island nations that enacted quarantine measures and implemented preventive public-health measures were spared the terrible death toll that was experienced in Samoa in 1918,” Fitisemanu said. “It’s not easy, but if we work together, we can do more to protect our families, to preserve our cultures, and to prevent COVID-19 from taking more from us than it already has.”

The new cases reported Wednesday bring the total number of Utahns who have had COVID-19 to 35,578. The rolling seven-day average of cases is 627 per day, Dunn said.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Gary Herbert acknowledged a backlog in processing COVID-19 tests in Utah — one he said the state’s COVID-19 task force is working to resolve.

“We’ve become overwhelmed,” Herbert said. “We’re testing a lot more people, but our ability to get the tests through the labs, that’s become something of a bottleneck, and has slowed down the results. That is not acceptable.”

Another 26 Utahns were admitted to hospitals for COVID-19, UDOH reported, and there are 197 people currently hospitalized in Utah with the virus. Since the first cases were reported in March, 2,135 people in Utah have been hospitalized.

Heading into the Pioneer Day weekend, Herbert encouraged those who are visiting with family and friends to move gatherings outside as much as possible, social distance and wear a mask to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Herbert also compared the challenges Utahns face today to the plight of the pioneers the holiday honors.

”They battled detractors who didn’t like them and thought they were foolish,” he said. “They battled fatigue, the elements that they had to travel to and through [and] illness they had over their journey as they traveled about 1,000 miles looking for opportunities to worship, to be free, to not be persecuted and find a better life.”

As the state faces the coronavirus pandemic, he said, there are also detractors — those who don’t believe in the science around the virus or trust the government’s response to it. Utahns face fatigue, too, Herbert said, of the illness that’s taken so many lives, the concept of social distancing and the “political haranguing that takes place on both sides of the aisle.”

But in the midst of those challenges, he encouraged Utahns to handle the pandemic the way he said the pioneers handled their own obstacles.

“Instead of them giving up to despair and pointing fingers, placing blame, the early pioneers really did come together,” he said. “They knew it was better for them to work together, roll up their sleeves, take on the challenge of the day and find the common good. They had unity, they had mutual respect for each other and they took on what I would call a spirit of shared responsibility. That’s what we need to emulate.”

Salt Lake Tribune reporters Taylor Stevens and Courtney Tanner contributed to this report