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About 90% of Utahns live in communities that have coronavirus infection rates at the serious “red zone” level set by federal officials, as a September surge of cases that began in Utah County has spread widely and led to a record number of hospitalizations.
Along with reporting 1,007 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health announced eight new fatalities, bringing the state’s death toll to 496.
And with 13.8% of all tests coming back positive for the past week, a large number of infected people likely are still not being tested, state officials have said.
For the past week, UDOH has tallied 1,044 new positive test results a day, on average — a record high, and far above the state’s goal to keep weeklong averages to fewer than 400 new cases per day.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force declares a state or county in the red zone if it exceeds 101 weekly cases per 100,000 residents. Just a month ago — as of Sept. 1 — only about 25% of Utahns lived in communities with rates that high. Those areas were mostly Utah County neighborhoods where college students had recently gone back to school, and on Salt Lake County’s west side and along the Interstate 15 corridor, which up to that point had been the spots hardest hit by the virus.
Although Utah County reported more new cases per capita than the rest of the state, its rate of new cases continued to decline Wednesday, even as other parts of the state showed the virus spreading at an increasing speed. Davis County and the Central Utah Health District both posted their largest single-day case counts, while Salt Lake County reported record-high weeklong case gains for the sixth day in a row.
Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to discuss Utah’s fight against the virus Thursday at a news conference. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is suggesting the governor allow the capital city to reinstate some restrictions, a step federal officials have urged in red zone areas.
The eight deaths reported since Tuesday were:
Four women from Washington, Millard, Utah and Salt Lake counties, all over age 85.
A man and a woman from Salt Lake County, and a Utah County woman, each between age 65 and 84.
A Salt Lake County man between age 45 and 64.
Hospitalizations stood at a record high Wednesday, with 226 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported, above the previous high of 225 patients on July 24. On average, 194 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week.
In total, 4,113 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 55 from Tuesday. In the past two weeks, the state has reported 529 hospitalizations — by far the most of any 14-day stretch since the pandemic began.
Utah’s intensive care units were 72.4% occupied as of Wednesday, meeting the state’s goal of less than 85% occupancy.
There were 5,839 new test results reported Wednesday, below the weeklong average of 7,353 new tests per day. Statewide, Utah’s rate of positive tests has been above 5% since May 25, according to UDOH data.
State data for individual communities shows substantial rates of new cases in large swaths of the state, suggesting the September outbreaks that affected many young adults in Utah County have long since spiraled into the rest of the state.
Draper posted the worst rate of new cases per capita for the past week — 92 daily cases per 100,000 residents — with Herriman reaching a rate of 60, higher than all of Utah County except for the most infected neighborhoods of Orem, Provo and Alpine, according to state data.
Meanwhile, Utah’s white residents now account for more than half the state’s overall cases for the first time since officials started releasing a race and ethnicity breakdown in May.
The rates are still far higher among Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, but the recent outbreak, at least partially tied to schools, has started to reduce the huge disparities seen earlier in the pandemic.
Still, disparities remain.
Utah’s population is 78% white and in recent days, white people have accounted for about two-thirds of cases. Meanwhile, Utah’s Hispanics, who comprise about 14% of the population, still account for about 20% of the cases. Overall, 50% of Utahns who contracted the coronavirus are white, while Hispanics account for 30.7%. Pacific Islanders make up the next largest group of patients, at 3.6%.
The virus also continues to make big gains among age groups older than 24, nearly all of which were experiencing record-high rates of new cases per capita as of Wednesday. Utahns age 25 to 44 — the state’s largest age group — once again account for the largest share of new cases, having surpassed 15- to 24-year-olds late last week.