Utah’s rate of new coronavirus cases rises back above 400, with 12 new outbreaks in schools

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Herriman cheerleaders hold a flag during the National Anthem while hosting Davis High School football, in Herriman on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.

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Utah is once again averaging more than 400 new coronavirus cases per day, with 513 new diagnoses reported on Friday.

Gov. Gary Herbert had said he wanted the state to get below 400 new cases per day by Sept. 1 — a goal that was met weeks ago.

But rising new cases this week brought the weeklong average back up to 411 new cases per day, the Utah Department of Health reported on Friday.

The biggest contributor of new cases was Utah County, which reported 208 diagnoses on Friday — the largest increase of any local health district in the state on Friday, and the county’s largest single-day increase since the beginning of the pandemic.

Per population, Utah County has been leading the state in the rate of new cases for about a week. For the past seven days, Utah County has averaged more than 20 new cases a day per 100,000 people, compared to 13 in Salt Lake County and 12 in the Weber-Morgan Health District.

The rise in new cases in Utah County comes as confirmed cases at Brigham Young University nearly quadrupled in a single day this week, rising from 11 on Wednesday to 40 on Thursday. Students there have been criticized for joining parties and other gatherings without wearing masks.

Also, for weeks, parents in Utah County have been protesting statewide mask orders for all public school students in kindergarten and older. However, Provo City last week implemented a mask order, overriding a mayoral veto and rejecting public comments that were dominated by objections to the mandate.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 419 on Friday, with five fatalities reported since Thursday:

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

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

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

  • A Washington County man, age 65 to 84, who died in a hospital.

  • A David County man, older than 85, who died in a hospital.

There were 121 Utah patients concurrently hospitalized on Friday, UDOH reported. On average, 122 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week — up slightly from the beginning of this week, but below the peak average of 211 patients hospitalized each day at the end of July.

In total, 3,172 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 19 from Thursday.

The rate of tests with positive results states was at 9.4% on Friday, same as Thursday. 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 has been above 5% since May 25, according to UDOH data.

There were 6,057 new test results reported on Friday, above the weeklong average of 4,567 new tests per day. Testing demand has been rising for the past week but remains well below the peak this summer; in mid-July, the state was reporting more than 7,000 new test results per day, on average.

Since public schools began opening on Aug. 13, there have been 27 outbreaks in schools, affecting 124 patients, with 12 of those new outbreaks reported in the past day alone. Those new outbreaks are linked to 19 new cases, UDOH reported.

In addition to new cases at BYU, the University of Utah reported 86 cases since Aug. 27, and Utah State University reported 38 active cases as of Friday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 169 patients infected in 38 school outbreaks statewide, with a median age of 17. Eight of those patients have been hospitalized, up one from Thursday; none has died.

The situation also has worsened in Utah’s long-term care facilities. Twenty-four nursing, rehabilitation or licensed assisted-living centers were on the state’s list of facilities with outbreaks on Friday. There were 21 facilities on the list Aug. 19.

One facility back on the list is the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home. The home, which is owned by the state of Utah, had 13 residents die in an outbreak in May and June. The latest outbreak began when the facility accepted a new resident Aug. 24, according to an update from Avalon Health Care, which has a contract to operate the home.

On Friday, Salt Lake City loosened some restrictions as it shifted from “orange” to “yellow” risk status. Sevier County, which has averaged fewer than one new case per day for several weeks, shifted from “yellow” to “green” on Friday, per orders by Herbert.

Of 53,839 Utahns who have tested positive for COVID-19, 45,547 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed.

Reporter Nate Carlisle contributed to this story.