Utah coronavirus cases up 1,107 Friday, as death toll moves closer to 500

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Health care workers perform COVID-19 testing at Intermountain Park City Hospital on Thursday, August 20, 2020.

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After investigators classified several deaths in recent months as being linked to the coronavirus, Utah health officials reported 15 new coronavirus deaths on Friday — the highest single-day jump since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nine of the deaths occurred in the past week, officials from the Utah Department of Health wrote in a statement on Friday — but medical examiners anticipate more fatalities are coming. The state reported 1,107 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

The Office of the Medical Examiner has seen “a notable increase in the number of COVID-related death investigations we have conducted in the past several days,” wrote Dr. Erik Christensen, the state’s chief medical examiner.

“Let me be clear, these deaths are preventable,” Christiansen wrote. “None of the individuals who we determine to have died from COVID-19 would have suffered this fate at the time they did had they not been infected with COVID-19.”

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 474 on Friday, including two from early September, two from July and two from August:

  • A Utah County woman age 45 to 64.

  • A Salt Lake County woman age 45 to 64.

  • Three Salt Lake County women, ages 65-84.

  • A Tooele County man age 65-84.

  • Two Utah County men, ages 65-84.

  • A Sanpete County man older than 85.

  • A Washington County woman older than 85.

  • A Davis County man age 65 to 84.

  • A Davis County woman age 25-44.

  • A Weber County woman age 65 to 84.

  • A Utah County man age 25 to 44.

  • A Salt Lake County man age 45-64.

“The deaths we report on a daily basis often occur several days, or even weeks, prior to our reporting them publicly,” UDOH officials wrote. “This is due to the time it takes for deaths to be reported by hospitals, long-term care facilities, or funeral homes to the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME), and for the OME to conduct its death investigation.”

Christensen told The Salt Lake Tribune that Friday’s rise in reported deaths “is a direct function of the positivity rate we’ve seen. Deaths are a lagging indicator of caseloads. The more caseloads we see, the more hospitalizations you can expect, and the more deaths.”

The number of deaths reported to the medical examiner’s office had been receding since the summer, Christensen said.

“We were being overrun with cases being reported to us during July,” he said. “That tapered off toward the end of July into August, and continued to drop as recently as last week.”

For four of the deaths reported Friday — two from July and two from August — “at the time of their death, it wasn’t totally clear what caused their deaths,” Christensen said. Those cases required autopsies, he said, which take longer for his staff to process than the standard “paper investigative exercise.”

Utah’s rate of new diagnoses declined slightly for the second day Friday after a stretch of record-high spread. UDOH reported a seven-day average of 945 new positive test results per day — below Thursday’s rate of 987, but far above the state’s goal to keep weeklong averages to fewer than 400 new cases per day.

The rate of new cases declined slightly in Utah County, which recorded 375 new infections Friday. But for the past week, the county still has averaged 57 new cases a day per 100,000 residents — the highest rate of any county in the state, and nearly double the statewide average of 29.

Salt Lake County also showed significant spread, with 457 new cases — the county’s second-largest single-day gain so far. State data show per-capita rates of new cases are high — averaging at least 35 new cases per 100,000 residents — and rising in Herriman, Kearns, South Jordan and parts of West Jordan.

Hospitalizations continued to rise on Friday, with 190 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported.

On average, 187 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week — continuing a two-week increase, but below the peak average of 211 patients hospitalized each day at the end of July.

Utah’s intensive care units were 68.9% occupied as of Friday, meeting the state’s goal of less than 85% occupancy. In total, 3,916 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 34 from Thursday.

For the past week, 13.7% of all tests have come back positive — a rate that indicates a large number of infected people are not being tested, state officials have said. Statewide, Utah’s rate of positive tests has been above 5% since May 25, according to UDOH data.

There were 9,365 new test results reported on Friday, above the weeklong average of 7,195 new tests per day.

Last week, Utah reported the nation’s worst positivity rate and fourth-worst rate of new cases per population, according to a White House Task Force report dated Sunday, which was obtained by CNN. It’s not clear where Utah ranks now; both measures have declined slightly during this week.

A second Salt Lake County charter school, Providence Hall High in Herriman, has closed for two weeks because of an outbreak and shifted students to remote learning.

Additionally, Bingham High will close for two days — Friday and Saturday — for a deep cleaning after there were more than 15 cases reported there among students and staff. But the school will reopen for classes Monday, like normal.

Since fall term began, at least 19 schools in the state have surpassed 15 active cases — the threshold where state health officials say schools should move to online classes only. But districts have defied that guidance in several schools, some switching instead to “hybrid” schedules where students alternate between online and in-person classes. At least 10 schools have closed for at least two weeks due to coronavirus outbreaks.

Statewide, health officials have reported 2,501 school-related cases of COVID-19, with 1,121 diagnosed in the past two weeks. At least 353 teachers had been infected as of Friday, UDOH reported.