COVID-19 keeps surging in Utah, with 1,608 new cases

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Health care workers perform COVID-19 testing at Intermountain Park City Hospital on Thursday, August 20, 2020.

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Utah continues its sharp surge in coronavirus infections with another day of elevated positive tests for COVID-19.

After back-to-back record days, 1,608 new infections were reported Saturday by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) as critical-care beds continued to fill with people falling ill and struggling to breathe.

Utah’s skyrocketing infection rates mirror national trends, especially in the Intermountain West and Upper Midwest, where the disease appears to be spreading out of control with the arrival of cold weather and ongoing resistance to mask wearing, social distancing and other measures experts say slow the spread of the virus.

The past three days have been the three highest case count days Utah has experienced since the start of the pandemic. Friday’s count of 1,960 was the worst and Saturday’s was the second worst.

Utah deaths from the coronavirus rose to 568 on Saturday, with one reported since Friday. It was a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was not hospitalized.

Hospitalizations dipped slightly Saturday, with 310 Utah patients currently admitted, UDOH reported. That’s compared to 313 the day before. Since the pandemic arrived in Utah, 103,117 people have tested positive, and 4,997 Utahns have been hospitalized for COVID-19.

There were 10,069 new test results reported Saturday.

Infection rates are now high enough in 21 of Utah’s 29 counties to trigger mandatory mask orders. People in those counties are to wear masks when outside their immediate household, even when around family members or friends. Social gatherings may not exceed 10 people.

Gov. Gary Herbert has urged Utahns repeatedly to wear masks, practice hand hygiene and engage in social distancing, but he has been hesitant to impose a mask order statewide, which he has said would be difficult to enforce and could be resisted as an imposed government mandate.

For the past week, 16% of all tests have come back positive, a new record. Health officials say positive test rates this high indicate large numbers of infected people haven’t been tested. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,396 per day.

Officials want Utah’s rate of positive tests to drop below 5%, a rate not seen since May 25, according to UDOH data.

The ongoing outbreak is affecting nearly every part of the state. Utah considers an area to have a “very high rate” of transmission if it has a 14-day case rate of 200 or more per 100,000 residents. That’s as high as Utah’s scale goes.

The entire state exceeds the 200 threshold, except for a piece of northern Washington County, where the rate is 197.

For the first time since the state started releasing a gender breakdown, more women than men have tested positive for the coronavirus. The shift has happened as more young people get the virus.

Men still far outweigh women in the 25-to-44 age range, largely because of workplace outbreaks in industries like construction. But more women are testing positive than men among those younger than 25 and older than 65.