Another Utah hospital fills its ICU, with 1,168 more coronavirus cases reported Monday

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Polly Crookston working at a COVID-19 testing station at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

As Utah continues to report new coronavirus cases at unprecedented levels, a second Utah hospital has filled its intensive care unit, forcing it to open — and staff — overflow beds.

Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George filled its intensive care unit beds on Sunday, when southwest Utah reported its highest-yet number of hospitalizations during one week.

“We continue to see high volumes of patients in intensive care units at our hospitals across the state,” said Jess Gomez, spokesman for Intermountain Healthcare, which operates the hospital. “Health care resources across the state, including highly trained caregivers who provide specialized intensive care, continue to be stretched."

Gomez would not say how many ICU patients the hospital previously could care for, or how many could be treated in the overflow space. The St. George News reported that Dixie Regional went over the 32-bed capacity of its ICU and converted additional rooms, making 89 ICU beds available.

It is Utah’s second hospital to fill its ICU beds; University of Utah Hospital on Friday also exceeded its normal ICU capacity and opened an overflow unit, requiring doctors and nurses to work overtime.

“Right now we’re managing; we’ve created extra teams and extra rooms to manage our intensive care patients and to get us through this surge,” Dr. Tom Miller, chief medical officer for University of Utah Health, said on an appearance on CNN Monday afternoon.

“... But if we increase another 20%, 30% we’re going to have to pull in all kinds of additional help," he said. " ... Our staff are working overtime, and my heart goes out to them and their families because they’re giving it their all.”

Intermountain may soon open overflow ICU beds in other Utah hospitals, Gomez said. “We may have to this week if volumes continue to spike,” he said.

With 1,168 new coronavirus cases reported Monday, Utah for the past week has averaged 1,233 new positive test results a day — a new record high, the Utah Department of Health reported Monday.

In the past two weeks, 669 Utahns have been hospitalized for COVID-19, with 288 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 276 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week — the highest weeklong average yet.

While the two hospitals adding “surge” capacity are in Salt Lake City and St. George, other parts of the state also are reporting record hospitalizations. Wasatch County and health districts covering Central Utah and Bear River reported their highest weeklong total hospitalizations Monday — with Bear River exceeding even hospitalizations after a large June outbreak tied to a meatpacking plant there.

In total, 4,688 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 32 from Sunday.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 546 on Monday, with three fatalities reported since Sunday:

  • A Salt Lake County man, age 45 to 64.

  • A Utah County man, older than 85.

  • A Washington County man, older than 85.

For the past week, 14.4% of all tests have come back positive — the highest rate since the pandemic began. State health officials have said that the higher the percentage positivity, the likelier it is that a large number of infected people are not being tested. Statewide, Utah’s rate of positive tests has been above 5% since May 25, according to UDOH data.

The state does not report county-level positivity rates — one of the factors that determines the level of restrictions in each county. But 17 of Utah’s 29 counties now are exceeding another criteria, reporting more than 325 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, according to state data.

As of Monday, six of those counties were under the highest restriction levels, but state health officials expected to update county restriction levels Tuesday.

The counties reporting the highest rates of new cases were Piute, Garfield, Juab, Utah, Salt Lake, Cache, Davis and Wasatch; all but Piute and Wasatch have been under the state’s highest restriction levels for the past week. However, the state has not attached any enforcement mechanism for those rules — mask requirements and limits on gatherings.

Asked on CNN what Utah health care providers need, Miller said, “We have currently enough equipment, what we really need is the public to pick up their ears a little bit and wear their masks. ... We’ve really got to up our game."

Salt Lake County on Monday tallied its highest weeklong total number of new cases since the pandemic began. Herriman, Kearns, West Valley City, Riverton and Bluffdale reported the county’s highest rates of new cases per capita.

There were 6,721 new test results reported Monday, below the weeklong average of about 8,250 new tests per day.