Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.
With 1,343 new coronavirus cases reported on Friday, Utah’s rate of new diagnoses continued to rise, and a record number of patients were hospitalized.
For the past week, the Utah Department of Health has tallied 1,148 new positive test results a day, on average — continuing a streak of new record highs that began earlier this month.
Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 505 on Friday, with four fatalities reported since Thursday:
A Salt Lake County man, older than 85.
A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85.
A Davis County man, age 65 to 84.
A Salt Lake County man, age 65 to 84.
Hospitalizations reached a new record high on Friday, with 243 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 207 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week, approaching the peak average of 211 patients hospitalized each day at the end of July.
In total, 4,220 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 53 from Thursday. There have been 552 hospitalizations reported in the past two weeks — the most of any 14-day stretch since the pandemic began.
Utah’s intensive care units were 71.8% occupied as of Friday, meeting the state’s goal of less than 85% occupancy.
But Utah’s health officials report only statewide figures. And one day after a physician disclosed that the ICU at one of Utah’s biggest hospitals was 95% occupied, it’s not clear where Utah’s empty hospital beds are concentrated — or whether they’ll be able to accommodate a patient surge that’s likely to continue, since rising COVID-19 hospitalizations typically follow spikes in diagnoses by a week or so.
“At present, we are not at maximum levels — at any of our locations,” said Jess Gomez, spokesman for Intermountain Healthcare. “But again those numbers fluctuate from day to day and hour to hour.
“All of our facilities are seeing very high volumes,” Gomez said.
In an online briefing Thursday, one of Intermountain’s doctors said the timing of this case surge — before autumn’s chill strikes Utah — bodes poorly for the coming weeks and months.
“I’m very concerned ... that we have the highest [case counts] in Utah that we’ve ever had — and it’s like 70 degrees outside," said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician. "This is the time where we should have the lowest number of cases. We can be outside, we can enjoy people’s company. Ideally, this is the time where we should have driven this number down incredibly low with the anticipation of a spike in October, November, December. That’s the exact opposite of what’s happened.”
The weeklong total number of new cases rose for the second day in a row in Utah County, which has been the epicenter of Utah’s recent spike in infections — but seven-day case counts are below their peak about a week and a half ago.
Other areas of the state have more than made up for that decline, with Salt Lake, Davis, Wasatch and Tooele counties, as well as the Central and Southeast Utah health districts reporting their highest-ever weeklong numbers of new cases as of Friday.
Tooele County, which had avoided major outbreaks for most of the pandemic, this week exceeded 100 new cases in seven days, per 100,000 residents — a rate federal health officials have called the “red zone.”
In fact, the state’s “small-area” case data shows that 94% of the state’s population is living in communities with incidence rates in the “red zone” during the past seven days. At the beginning of September, only about a quarter of Utahns were living in towns and neighborhoods with rates that high.
For the past week, 13.8% of all tests have come back positive — a rate that has held steady for weeks, and that is high enough to suggest 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 9,026 new test results reported on Friday, above the weeklong average of 7,924 new tests per day.