Coronavirus in Utah: 3,197 new cases as COVID-19 weekly death toll matches that of heart disease

(Rick Bowmer | AP) University of Utah student James Calder takes a rapid COVID-19 test Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Salt Lake City. As college students prepare to go home for the holidays, some schools are quickly ramping up COVID-19 testing to try to keep infections from spreading further as the coronavirus surges across the U.S.

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It was the worst week yet, and officials are worried there’s worse to come.

On Sunday, the Utah Department of Health reported 3,197 more coronavirus cases, six more deaths, and 74 more hospitalizations in Utah’s growing coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases is a new high for a Sunday daily report.

It was just the latest in a growing trend of cases that indicates how out of control the pandemic has gotten in Utah. For the week, there have been a total of 23,368 cases; since the pandemic began, Utah has the sixth highest number of cases per capita. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s a 10% increase from last week, which was also a record.

The six deaths Sunday included:

  • A Davis County man, between 65-84, who was hospitalized at time of death.

  • A Davis County woman, older than 85, who was a long-term care facility resident.

  • A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, who was hospitalized at time of death.

  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65-84, who was hospitalized at time of death.

  • A Washington County man, between 45-64, who was hospitalized at time of death.

  • A Weber County woman, between 65-84, who was hospitalized at time of death.

The 77 total deaths this week represent a new high as well — 18 more than the previous highest week. In comparison, 77 is also the number of Utahns who died in an average week in 2019 due to heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in Utah; it’s significantly higher than the number of Utahns who die of cancer (64) or stroke (18) in an average week.

Seven deaths from COVID-19 have come in Utah’s prisons in the past three weeks. On Wednesday, the Navajo Nation reported eight deaths.

There were 13,641 new people tested reported on Sunday, meaning the one-day positivity rate was 23.4%. With the new hospitalizations, 556 people are currently in Utah hospitals due to COVID-19, according to the state. More than 90% of Utah’s ICU beds are full, but 94.3% of those in the state’s large referral hospitals are being used. That’s well above the 85% threshold where hospitals say they run out of nurses to take care of patients in normal circumstances.

That number represents a growing toll on Utah’s hospitals — both to health care workers and those who count on them. Utah hospitals have started informally rationing care. Important surgeries and chemotherapy are being delayed in some cases; nurses are being asked to take care of more patients than usual, or being moved to provide care that they’re unfamiliar with giving.

This week also saw at least 14 new schools move to online schooling, after 25 schools did last week. There have now been 12,421 cases connected with schools, including 3,453 in the past two weeks. Butterfield Canyon Elementary became the first elementary school to surpass 15 cases, forcing a move to online learning. Two other elementary schools moved to online learning without surpassing the 15-case threshold because too many students were quarantined.

But now, all eyes turn toward Thanksgiving week. The CDC begged Americans not to travel on Thanksgiving in what is traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year, instead hoping they’d celebrate the holiday only with those in the same household. But Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declined to order Utah residents to limit their Thanksgiving celebrations, asking for caution but ultimately saying that “what you do in the confines of your own home is going to be up to you.”

In those homes, health officials are asking residents to wear masks during the preparation of food, limit the time involved in gatherings, and either increase air circulation indoors or, better yet, hold Thanksgiving dinner outside. At all times, people should maintain 6 feet of social distance between one another while cooking or at the dinner table.

Managing the number of attendees, though, might be most important.

“I like to think that if one person at your house was to become positive on Friday morning, how many people would have to be quarantined?” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. “We want that to be as few people as possible.”

There might be extra incentive for citizens to be as careful as possible, too, as the vaccine appears to be on its way relatively soon. While doses won’t be available for the average citizen right away, the head of U.S. vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, told CNN that the first Americans — likely health care workers — could be immunized as soon as Dec. 11 after a potential approval just before that date.