Utah COVID-19 hospitalizations shatter record again, with 1,669 new cases Tuesday

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shoppers wear masks on Main Street, in downtown Salt Lake City, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

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Coronavirus hospitalizations blew past previous record highs on Tuesday, with 366 Utahns currently hospitalized and 1,669 new diagnoses statewide.

Nearly 500 Utahns have been admitted to hospitals in the past week alone — a record high. In total, 5,665 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up a record 89 from the day before.

Utah’s intensive care units were 73.7% occupied as of Tuesday — a figure that hospital administrators say does not account for reduced staffing as nurses and doctors fall ill or leave the profession, or for demands on life-saving medical equipment. Utah’s hospitals have been preparing to begin rationing care in intensive care units.

And that’s with hospitals now adding COVID-19 patients who, for the most part, became ill a week or two ago, when the state was averaging 200 to 400 fewer new cases each day. With new cases on a sharp and continuous rise since then, it’s all but inevitable hospitals will become even more crowded in coming days.

For the past week, the state has averaged 1,726 new positive test results a day, a new record high, the Utah Department of Health reported.

But there is increasing evidence suggesting that figure significantly undercounts the actual number of infected people in Utah. For the past week, 19.1% of all tests have come back positive — a record-high rate that suggests a large number of infected people aren’t being tested and may be unwittingly spreading the virus to others.

When such a high percentage of tests come back positive, health officials have said, it indicates the state’s tests — typically 7,000 to 10,000 a day — are identifying a lot of new outbreaks, rather than ruling out coronavirus in any given community.

Instead, it appears no community in Utah is being spared from the virus. Of the 98 “small areas” that Utah officials use to track health data, 97 reported more than 200 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, or a “very high”rate, according to UDOH measures. About three-quarters of Utahns live in places where rates are more than triple that.

Not only are new cases popping up at high rates statewide, nearly 90% of Utahns live in communities where the rate of new cases is higher now than it was a week ago. Davis, Salt Lake, San Juan, Tooele and Wasatch counties and the Southeast Utah and Tri-County health districts reported record-high weeklong case totals on Tuesday. In Uintah County, seven-day caseloads have more than quintupled in about two weeks; in Carbon County, they nearly tripled in just over a week, according to local data.

Hospitalizations have risen accordingly. As of Tuesday, San Juan County was reporting the highest number of new hospitalizations per capita in the past week. Record-high hospitalizations were reported by health departments in Utah, Weber and Morgan counties — and in Salt Lake County and Southwest Utah, where hospitals already have opened overflow ICUs.

On average, 332 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week, continuing a nearly month-long continuous streak of new record highs.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 620 on Tuesday, with six fatalities reported since Monday:

  • A Utah County man, age 65 to 84.

  • A Utah County woman, age 45 to 64.

  • A Sanpete County woman, age 45 to 64.

  • Two Salt Lake County men, ages 65 to 84.

  • A Tooele County woman, age 65 to 84.

Meanwhile, cases continued to spread more rapidly than ever in Utah’s schools, even though many of the state’s high schools are on modified schedules, are online only, or only returned to in-person classes a day ago after temporary closures due to COVID-19. There were nearly 1,100 new school-related cases in Utah in the past week, another new record, according to state data.

Two more Utah high schools have closed this week for 14 days of online learning: Ben Lomond High School in the Weber School District, and Northridge High School in the Davis School District.