Delayed lab report leads to ‘artificially high’ report of 552 new COVID-19 cases in Utah

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Herriman High School cheerleaders hold a flag during the National Anthem while hosting Davis High School football, in Herriman on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. The game was the first organized football game in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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Roberto Perez Valencia and his family tried to be careful. They didn’t go out except when they had to, and if they did go out, they wore masks to reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19, says Valencia’s widow, Gabriela Hueramo.

Hueramo, Valencia and their three daughters got infected anyway. They began to show symptoms of the virus July 26 and 27. Hueramo said her husband appeared to be managing his symptoms at their home in Payson.

Then on Aug. 6, things got worse.

“He just went downhill in a matter of a couple of hours,” Hueramo said. “He started having trouble breathing.”

She took Valencia to Mountain View Hospital in Payson on Aug. 7. He died there that day.

Valencia was 37.

He is one of 56 Utahns to have died so far this month, with seven new deaths reported on Friday.

A reporting delay led to an elevated number of new coronavirus cases in Utah on Friday, with 552 new diagnoses added to the state’s total.

“Of these 552 cases, 144 of them are from a delay in reporting from a lab since early July, so today’s count is artificially high,” the Utah Department of Health wrote in a news statement. The state did not identify the lab that processed the cases.

For tests processed during the past seven days, Utah has averaged 369 new positive results per day, the Utah Department of Health reported on Friday. Gov. Gary Herbert had said he wanted the state to get below 400 new cases per day by Sept. 1 — and after three weeks of declining numbers, it would take a sharp rise in infections to exceed that target.

The rate of tests with positive results was at 8.8% on Friday, up slightly from Thursday following a decline that began late last week. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn has said a 3% positivity rate would indicate the virus is under control.

Statewide, Utah's rate of positive tests have been above 5% since May 25, according to UDOH data.

There were 5,161 new test results reported on Friday, but about 1,700 of those were the delayed results from early July, UDOH said. That leaves about 3,460 recent test results in Friday’s count — well below the 7-day average of about 4,260 new tests per day.

Testing demand has been dropping since late July, state officials and hospital administrators have said; in mid-July, the state was reporting more than 7,000 new test results per day, on average.

Hospitalizations were down slightly on Friday, with 171 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 190 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week, continuing a decline from a peak average of 211 patients hospitalized about two weeks ago.

In total, 2,744 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 23 from Thursday.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 360 on Friday. The seven deaths reported Friday are:

  • A San Juan County woman, age 65 to 84, who lived in a long-term care facility.

  • A Utah County woman, age 65 to 84, who died in a hospital.

  • A Salt Lake County woman, age 45 to 64, who died in a hospital.

  • Three Salt Lake County women, ages 65 to 84, who each lived in a long-term care facility.

  • A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, who lived in a long-term care facility.

Despite the five deaths of residents in long-term care facilities, new outbreaks at nursing homes and care centers were declining. There were 23 such centers on the Utah Department of Health’s list of outbreaks Friday, down from 32 on the list Aug. 7.

But the cooling hot spots do not change the need for Utahns to keep wearing masks and avoiding contact with others, Hueramo said.

“I’m really mad, to be honest,” Hueramo said Friday in a phone interview. “All the people that are irresponsible and don’t want to wear masks just because it’s draining their freedom or something. To me it is just a lack of common sense and a lack of decency.”

Valencia was born in Cuitzeo del Porvenir, in the Mexican state of Michoacán. He and Hueramo married in 2007. Hueramo said her father has lived in Utah for about 30 years. In 2008, Hueramo said she and Valencia decided to follow her father to Utah “to give our kids a better opportunity at life.”

Hueramo works at Walmart, and Valencia worked at a mink farm while also enjoying art, music and playing sports and games with his daughters, now ages 18, 15 and 10. Hueramo said she doesn’t know how her household contracted the virus. She still has a cough, and says she and her daughters are recovering.

Latinos in Utah have disproportionally high rates of coronavirus infections. Hueramo said she and Valencia have health insurance and sick pay that allowed them to stay home when they contracted the virus, but many Latinos work service jobs that expose them to others and don’t provide benefits.

“I think that’s the big factor here right now — the lack of medical insurance and the lack of being able to get basic medical attention,” Hueramo said.

Of 45,976 Utahns who have tested positive for COVID-19, 36,679 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed.

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