Utah coronavirus cases up 1,201 on Monday

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

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Statewide hospitalizations for the coronavirus were holding steady at just under 300 patients Monday, the Utah Department of Health reported, with 1,201 new cases diagnosed.

With caseloads usually lower over the weekends, “Today’s a better day,” said Dr. Nathan Hatton, a pulmonologist with University of Utah Health, on MSNBC Monday⁩. But, he added, University Hospital is still assessing capacity “on a minute to minute basis, almost, trying to figure out how we can take good care of these people.”

There were 5,745 new test results reported Monday — the lowest number in two weeks.

But even with the low number of new tests on Monday, the state for the past week has averaged 1,494 new positive test results a day, continuing a streak of new record highs, UDOH said.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 574 on Monday, with two fatalities reported since Sunday:

  • A Garfield County man, age 65-84.

  • A Washington County woman, age 45-64.

Hospitals reported 299 Utah patients were concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 305 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week, continuing a three-week streak of new record highs each day.

In total, 5,102 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 53 from Sunday. In the past two weeks, 771 Utahns have been reported hospitalized for the coronavirus — the highest number of any 14-day stretch since the pandemic began.

Utah’s intensive care units were 68.9% occupied as of Monday, as state officials and hospital administrators prepared to begin rationing ICU space at some point this week or next.

For the past week, 17% of all tests have come back positive — a record high rate, and one that indicates a large number of infected people are not being tested, state officials have said.

Under the state’s new metrics, 21 of Utah’s 29 counties are under the highest restriction level, which requires masks and limits private gatherings to 10 people.

But the state’s metrics are more lax than federal guidelines, which deem infection rates in the highest level, or “red zone,” when they exceed 101 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents.

By that standard, all 98 of the state’s “small areas,” used by health officials use to study community-level health trends, had infection rates in the “red zone.” And 93% of Utahns live in communities with infection rates more than double that rate.

The Utah County neighborhoods of Orem and western Provo still reported the highest number of new cases per capita of any communities in the state. But after weeks of holding down new case counts amid a statewide surge, Salt Lake City’s Glendale neighborhood has reported staggering gains in the past 10 days or so, and has nearly caught up to the most infected areas of the state.

For about the first three weeks of October, Glendale was typically averaging about 10 new cases a day. But in the past week, Glendale has averaged more than 21 cases per day. And the percentage of tests coming back positive also has risen precipitously, with a 14-day average of about 29% on Monday, up from about 16% two weeks ago.

Health officials have not been able to tie the rapid spread to any one outbreak, said Ilene Risk, epidemiology manager for Salt Lake County. “It is very concerning,” she said.

About 8% of new cases in the neighborhood are linked to known outbreaks — in assisted living centers and workplaces, for example.

“But that doesn’t explain it,” Risk said. “The bottom line is, we don’t know why they’re having that increase.”

Health officials are keeping an eye on cases there, Risk said, while confronting countywide case increases that this weekend pushed Salt Lake County ahead of Utah County as the local health department with the most new cases per capita in one week.

The trend is particularly frustrating, Risk said, because Salt Lake County has the state’s longest-standing mask order — but that doesn’t mean masks aren’t working.

The evidence behind the effectiveness of masks is so overwhelming, she said, that it’s far more likely people simply aren’t wearing them in all the settings they should, regardless of the order.

“I’d suggest maybe masks aren’t being adhered to like we hoped ... or people are not wearing them correctly,” Risk said. “It just takes that one very brief contact with someone who has an adequate viral load, who coughs or sneezes.”

Although most of the state is under a so-called mask “mandate” in accordance with the state’s guidelines, Gov. Gary Herbert has said he doesn’t want to focus on enforcement — and in at least one county with a history of anti-mask protests, some law enforcement officers have refused to enforce the order.

In Salt Lake County, teams of health officials have visited businesses to request compliance after receiving complaints, but they haven’t sought criminal charges; a violation of a health order is a Class B misdemeanor.

After several months, Risk said, it’s possible that mask-wearing is the victim of “message fatigue.”

And she said she is worried that patchy adherence to the state’s guidelines will undermine their validity; if numbers continue to rise despite “orders” being in place in most of the state, Utahns may conclude that masks are not effective, rather than the more likely problem that people aren’t actually wearing them.

“People are just like, ‘Ugh,’” Risk said. “They’re tired. But it’s definitely the wrong time to get tired of doing mitigation steps.”

Record-high weeklong hospitalizations were reported in Davis and Salt Lake counties, and the Central Utah, Tri-County and Weber-Morgan health districts, according to state data.

And Davis, Wasatch and Summit counties, as well as the Southwest, Tri-County and Weber-Morgan health districts reported record-high new cases for the past week.