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.
For a fifth consecutive day, Utah has experienced a daily increase of at least 1,000 new coronavirus cases — a troubling trend that’s now occurred three times in the month of October. Three more Utahns have died and 1,097 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, the Utah Department of Health announced Sunday.
The past seven days have arguably marked the worst week yet in the state’s fight against coronavirus, which saw Utah set a new record for average daily positives and then establish a new mark for active hospitalizations. Utah’s medical leaders are warning that they have few intensive care unit beds left.
With Sunday’s reported numbers, the state is now up to 94,394 positive cases overall and 543 total deaths.
The new deaths include a man between 65-84 years old from Salt Lake County; a woman between 65-84, also from Salt Lake County; and a woman between 45-64, from Davis County.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,206 per day, and the rolling seven-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is a staggering 14.2%, tying for the state’s high.
Current hospitalizations declined slightly — from a record 298 on Saturday down to 291. Total hospitalizations from the beginning of the outbreak now stand at 4,656.
The state has now tested 973,938 people in total — an increase of 7,487 people.
While the month of October has been a particularly bad one throughout Utah — 15 of the 18 days thus far have seen at least 1,000 new cases — the past week has been especially troublesome.
Utah reported 1,498 new cases Thursday, nearly a state record, and then followed it with 1,496 the next day. On Saturday, another worrisome record was broken, as health officials reported 298 patients receiving active care.
Salt Lake County set a record this week with 696 cases on Friday, and is averaging more than 500 per day over the past week. And the state as a whole saw 26 coronavirus-related deaths for the week.
The continuing surge forced the University of Utah Hospital to ask doctors and nurses to work overtime and to use emergency beds because the hospital’s intensive care unit had reached “more than 100% capacity.”
Hospitals being overtaxed by an influx of new coronavirus cases has had the chilling effect of some critically ill or injured patients struggling to be admitted for care — a Herriman woman who suffered a heart attack spent more than two hours at a small, under-equipped facility waiting for a transfer as doctors called one hospital after another trying to find a bed for her.
Utah reported 102 people were in the state’s ICUs on Sunday, up from 96. And the ICUs were 71.9% full statewide.
The U. Hospital created a third team of doctors to treat COVID-19 patents and opened an overflow intensive care unit this week as the numbers continued to rise. The hospital was at 104% capacity on Friday and it was at 94% on Saturday. On Sunday, hospital spokeswoman Kathy Wilets said it was roughly at 80%.
Wilets added that while the hospital tends to see ICU occupancy decline on weekends because there are fewer surgeries that take place, she said doctors expect the numbers to rise this week again, stressing the system.
In a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Gary Herbert said that Utah is “having one of the worst outbreaks in the country and this is unacceptable,” in announcing a new pandemic strategy that ties restrictions to local case numbers and testing rates.
While Herbert said that masks will be required in most of Utah under the statewide order, he added that local governments would have autonomy to decide how and whether to enforce the rules on mask-wearing, social distancing and crowding in public and private gatherings.
Days later, after Utah shattered its previous record of 256 coronavirus hospitalizations, he called the spike in cases “unsustainable.”
The New York Times, in a story profiling the September outbreak at Corner Canyon High School in Draper that led to a teacher being hospitalized and spending eight days on a ventilator, noted that over the past week, Utah had “the sixth-highest of new cases per 100,000 people of any state.”