Utah coronavirus cases up more than 1,000 again Monday

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pedestrians wear masks as they walk up Main Street in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.

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With 1,105 new coronavirus cases reported Monday, Utah’s rate of new diagnoses continued to rise, with a record number of new hospitalizations during the past two weeks.

With that, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said late Monday that her county has essentially exhausted all its options to reduce cases short of another shutdown, so she is renewing her call for a statewide mandatory face mask order to try to avoid that.

The Utah Department of Health has tallied 1,027 new positive test results a day for the past week on average, continuing a streak of new record highs that began earlier this month as cases surged among young adults.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 482 on Monday, with four fatalities reported since Sunday:

  • A Salt Lake County man, age 65 to 84.

  • Two Utah County women, ages 65 to 84.

  • A Washington County man, age 65 to 84.

The rate of new cases per capita remained higher in Utah County than in other counties — but with nearly 100 new cases reported overnight, Salt Lake County’s Draper now has the highest rate of any individual community in Utah, according to the state’s “small area” data.

Draper is the only Utah city to exceed 100 daily cases per 100,000 residents for the past week — more than seven times the infection rate to qualify as a “red zone," or the worst classification, under federal guidelines.

Meanwhile, the virus is surging in many cities far from Utah County, state data shows. About 1.25 million Utahns now live in communities averaging more than 35 new daily cases per 100,000 people — the threshold Gov. Gary Herbert said Orem and Provo had to meet to be taken out of the orange, or moderate, restriction level.

Those include LaVerkin and Hurricane in southwest Utah, as well as Cache County’s Logan and Hyrum. Nearly half of Salt Lake County has surpassed that rate, including areas as far-flung as Herriman and Salt Lake City’s Avenues, as well as North Salt Lake in Davis County.

Salt Lake County, Utah’s most densely populated health district, continues to see a swell in cases in younger age groups, particularly among those ages 20 to 29. The county also reported over the weekend that one young person, between age 10 and 19, was admitted to an intensive care unit.

Wilson, the county mayor, said that after a day of meetings discussing how to try to reduce cases, that all options are on the table.

“But I think we’re sort of out of options from a governmental level in Salt Lake County to truly move the needle short of a shutdown,” she said. “And that doesn’t seem desirable to this community. And the Legislature has put limitations on that, and the governor.”

That leaves her to call again for Herbert to issue a statewide mandatory mask order.

“I think the best action is a statewide mask mandate. It’s still the only tool we have that has proven to be effective — other than a lockdown, and I don’t think any of us want that right now,” Wilson said.

She said that any other action the county may take will try to be strategic steps for different areas, realizing that communities within it vary greatly on what sort of outbreaks they have seen. “What I don’t want to do is just arbitrarily move the entire county to a color because the color code was created some time ago" by the state, and resulting steps may not fit evolving needs now.

Meanwhile, she said her county and its health department have also moved to clarify that the mask mandate still applies outdoors when people can’t socially distance, and especially want sports spectators to realize that.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall called the recent upward trend in cases “absolutely concerning” and urged residents and visitors to wear masks any time they’re around people from outside their households.

“It’s a low-barrier step people can take to prevent the need for more drastic action in the weeks ahead,” Mendenhall said, noting that “all options are, and should be, on the table.”

Hospitalizations held steady Monday, with 183 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 187 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week — a figure that has been increasing for about three weeks but remains below the peak average of 211 patients hospitalized each day at the end of July.

Utah’s intensive care units were 72.5% occupied as of Monday, meeting the state’s goal of less than 85% occupancy. But in total, 4,019 Utah patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 39 from Sunday. There have been 499 hospitalizations reported during the past two weeks — the most of any two-week period since the pandemic began.

For the past week, 13.6% 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 5,286 new test results reported Monday, below the weeklong average of 6,960 new tests per day.